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I love Europe.

If you cross the border from Germany to the Netherlands on the E30 you’ll know why. A few kilometers before you leave Germany, there are a signs informing you that you’re about to enter the Netherlands. Now if you’re not from Europe (or if you’re from the UK or Switzerland … well, as I wrote, if you’re not from Europe) then you might expect that one has to stop to have his passport inspected. Admittedly, one has to slow down from 120km/h to 100kh/h for about a kilometer, but that’s it.
I had crossed this border several times before in my life, but I still had a tear in my eyes. It’s just such an overwhelming feeling to cross a border without actually noticing it. I’ll also never forget my time in Saarbrücken, when I could simply go jogging into France along the Saar river and I never quite new, where the actual border was.  No sign whatsoever. (The signs you see on the Google map are only for the boat traffic on the river.) The only indication was a restaurant which had its menu posted in French, and so it’s a fairly safe guess that one has left Germany. I wish the islanders (British and Irish) could share the same experience.

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Describe the atmosphere surrounding the football World Cup in 2006 or the Eurocup in a single word: Partyotism!

This word creation is at least two years old, but I only became aware of it today. In fact, it probably came into live at the same time the Public Viewing areas were created. Even though I admittedly never went to watch a single match on a public viewing screen, it is hard to deny that this was one of the most successful inventions, also on an international scale, which Germany has come up with in recent years.

Germany is internationally one of the most popular countries.

The BBC every year organizes a world opinion poll. The executive summary you can find here, and the full report you can read here.

What’s also interesting: The vast majority of people polled in Japan and in India  did not have an opinion either way (positive or negative) on most of the countries. (Although Japanese people had a very clear opinion on China and on South Korea.) Among the South Koreans polled there were, on the other hand, hardly any undecided people, regardless of the country concerned.

So far, I’ve never been to Australia, but when I go I’ll certainly visit the Hutt River Principality.

Although this tiny nation is so far not internationally recognized (but I will immediately recognize it, once I formerly declare my office to be an independent state), it does have its own currency, its own stamps and its sovereign does not pay any tax to Australia or to any other foreign nation.

It even has a diplomatic representation in Berlin.

Check out its homepage here (the webmaster was recently knighted by the king) or watch a short documentary (in Germany) about the nation.

I guess pretty much everybody would agree that Germany and Switzerland are both independent countries.

Many people would also agree that the Republic of China (aka Taiwan) is an independent country.

Only few people consider Transnistria as an independent country.

It still remains to be seen who will recognize Kosovo as a country.

[Btw: here‘s a list of unrecognized countries.]

But regardless of any particular incident or concrete example, it’s interesting to try to come up with a definition of a “country”.

If I declare my office as a separate country of which I’m the democratically elected leader, does this change anything? If all of Lausanne declared itself independent of Switzerland and they founded a new country, would this “count” as a country? What if they even had the support of the rest of Switzerland but other nations would still refuse to accept it? What if the richest region of a current country declared itself independent, would this be different than from a scenario where it was the poorest region which wanted to break away? What if the people in a certain region have historically been mistreated by the ruling powers, does this make their claim for independence more justified?

The current definition of a country seems to be rather circular: X is a country, if it is recognized by “enough” important other countries.

So if I could get both George W. Bush (or soon Barack Hussein Obama) and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (or soon Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev) to recognize the status of my office among its equal brothers of countries, then this would give a significant boost to my campaign for independence.

Anyways, all the best to the Kosovo and the whole region. Hopefully, once they are all members of the European Union these national issues will start to matter less.

Oh, and if you want to do me a favor, please add my office (BC 132) to the list of unrecognized countries on the Wikipedia.

Last night I learned how to play a Swiss card came called Gemsch.

It is actually quite entertaining (but also stressful) as it combines luck, card counting skills, bluffing and communicating with your partner via secret signals.

The deck: You can play with either 32 cards (from seven to ace, as for Skat) or with 52 card (from two to ace, as for Poker).
The players: You need at least two teams consisting of two players each. If you have more people, it’s probably more fun to simply have more teams, but you could also go for larger teams.
The basic objective: You need to collect four identical cards (from all four suits) and then signal this to your partner using a secretly agreed on signal. Your partner then, once he notices the signal, calls out “Gemsch” and your team gets a point.

The details:

Before the game starts, each team needs to agree on a secret signal. This can be an audio signal (e.g., clearing your throat) or it can be a visual signal (e.g., touching your chin). The game starts by dealing four cards to each player. In the middle there are four cards face-up. This is the public “exchange pool” and you can put down any card from your hand to replace it by one from the pool. This is done in a synchronous manner, i.e., everybody can help himself at the same time. First come, first served. Once all people have stopped swapping cards with the pool, the pool is removed from the game and four new cards are put face-up into the middle.

Once any player has collected four of a kind (e.g., four 10s or four kings), he tries to signal this fact to his partner using the secret signal of their team. If his partner partner notices the signal he calls out “Gemsch”, the round is over and the team gets a point. If the signal is noticed before by the other team, they can call out “Gegen-Gemsch” and they get the point. If somebody calls out “Gemsch” although his partner does not have four identical cards, then also the other team gets a point. You can also try to get a Gemsch yourself first and then call out “Doppel-Gemsch”. Of course, you can also combine the “Gemsch” and the “Gegen-Gemsch ” and call out something crazy such as “Gemsch and Doppel-Gegen-Gemsch” meaning, you think your partner has four of a kind and so do both of your opponents. Whenever you’re completely right you get the point(s) (three in this case), whenever you’re wrong about anything you claimed, then the opponents get the points.

What’s interesting is that you don’t need to rely on the secret signal to call out “Gemsch” or “Gegen-Gemsch”! If you memorize the cards your partner or your opponents pick up, you can sometimes know that someone as a Gemsch without knowing the signal. So to avoid your opponents from keeping track you need to swap cards fairly fast and in a certain random fashion.

Wow, a song with all its lyrics taken from a political speech by Barack Obama makes it to the “internet charts” with more than 2.5 million views on youtube (and more than 3.5 million if you include the views of the copies).

You can see the video here (which really is quite powerful), read about the story behind it here, and see an interview with the brains behind it here.

… don’t let Mike Huckabee be the next US president.

In case you’re not following the US primaries, Huckabee wants “to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards”. (Although later he seems to have changed his mind again.)

I really love most of the comments on this site concerning this plans. To quote a few:

“What a nutjob. Will he next call for an amendment to outlaw buddhism, judaism, atheism, etc?  Will his entire cabinet be pulled from pulpits across the country?  Even worse, will he pack the courts with even more incompetent jurist/Jesus-freaks? Haven’t we had enough of this road, having the leader of the free world believing he was given the job by God, not by the people that voted for him?  Get a grip, folks.  Keep your religion out of our government.  That’s how it was designed, for the protection of both church and state.”

” What’s wrong with having religious zealots run a government?  Seems to be working well in Iran.” [My favorite :-)]

” I’m a Republican, and a conservative one at that, but this line of discussion scares me a LOT.
I fail to understand this intolerant streak in religions generally, and in the fundamentalist ones in particular, that seem to require everyone to think their way or they aren’t safe to practice their own beliefs.  Maybe someone can explain that to me, but to date no one has even tried very hard.
If this truly reflects his thinking, and is not just a case of playing to the house, then I have my doubts about Gov. Huckabee’s qualifications to be President, or any other office under our Constitution.
Absent some clarification (one that makes real sense and isn’t spin), this conservative, Republican, constitutionalist will not be voting for the Gentleman from Arkansas in November, or at any other time.”

“As an Evangelical who has studied the Bible and theology, it begs the question: if you are going to amend the Constitution on those things because of the bible, why not foreign policy as well? I mean, the Bible does make it clear to love those who hate you and bless those who persecute you. So by biblical standards we should not have invaded other countries in response to 9/11. Those who live by the sword die by it. Mr. Huckabee, at least be consistent.”

” I’m a Christian – and I have NO intention of voting for Mike Huckabee!
God wouldn’t want me to – for many reasons.”

… when the 10-minute film by Geert Wilders about the Qur’an will be released in about 2 weeks.

In his own words he will try to show that that Islam’s holy book “is an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror”. In February last year Wilders called on Muslims to “tear out half the pages of the Koran and throw them away”.

I wonder how any person can be so full of hatred. Does he really hope to change anybody’s life to the better with this film? (Ok, maybe his own due to more publicity.)

He wants to provoke and provoke he will. Sadly, people will let themselves go to their feelings of “revenge” and people will get hurt and probably killed if the film gets shown. More than one hundred people died after the Mohammed cartoons were released, but that will be a picnic compared to somebody tearing and burning the Qur’an and broadcasting it on youtube.

Of course, in an ideal world nobody would get insulted. They’d just ignore Wilder altogether and that would be the end of the story. But people will not ignore him.

So how could it be avoided that a single individual causes so much suffering and sorrow?

Does there have to be this asymmetry? What I mean: could a single person just as easily, by releasing a 10-minute film, bring joy and happiness to the world and support the mutual respect and understanding between religions?

Would it change the world if there was 10-minute film with all the religious leaders playing pool together, or maybe going on a roller coaster ride together?

It certainly wouldn’t hurt (and it would immediately become my favorite movie), but I doubt that it would start waves of people embracing each other as brothers and as fellow human beings in their quest for happiness.

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