UK election results 2017

The United Kingdom may descend into political chaos, but it will do so with style and in a calm and dignified manner.

You can say about the UK what you want, but Britons can carry off things that would look silly everywhere else.

In Britain, nobody would ever think of excluding you from a public debate just because you call yourself Lord Buckethead, dress accordingly and claim to be an intergalactic space lord.

But I wonder why Elmo only got 3 votes.

Posted in Elections, Politics, UK | 3 Comments

D-Day Movie Recommendations

Always on 6 June, I have a feeling of gratitude to the more than 160,000 Allied troops that landed in Normandy on 6 June 1944 (D-Day) and marked the beginning of the second phase of the liberation of Europe (after the landing in Sicily on 10 July 1943). As a German, I still find it embarrassing that my grandparents could not get rid of the Nazi tyranny themselves, but that soldiers from around the world had to muster their courage and many of them had to sacrifice their lives to allow my parents’ generation to grow up in a free, liberal and democratic Germany.

If you wish to commemorate this day, I recommend to find a veteran of World War II and celebrate with him or her. In the absence of such a veteran, you may at least want to watch a movie about D-Day. Here are my top three recommendations.

The classic: The Longest Day

The Longest Day from 1962 is the classic movie about D-Day, recounting the military action on both sides hour by hour. It is a massive production with an enormous line-up of stars.

Even though the film won several Oscars, by today’s standards the black and white The Longest Day is far less impressive. Because original colour footage of the landing in Normandy has been discovered in the meantime, I would actually recommend to go for that if you want to get a realistic impression.

The fictional: Saving Private Ryan

A much more harrowing account than in The Longest Day is given in the opening landing scene of Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg.

Watching this opening scene is an exhausting, sickening, physical experience. I still remember that I saw it in its opening week at a cinema in New York and I had to fight with the girl who had accompanied me because she wanted to leave the cinema in the first 10 minutes into the movie. I myself was happy that I hadn’t had dinner yet.

Steven Spielberg made a very intense movie about D-Day. The colours that he used create the impression of watching an account filmed in 1944. The brutality of war displayed in this film makes it even harder to watch classics like The Longest Day with the same eyes. The latter seems like a modern version of a Western film, a sanitized depiction of real events.

The only weakness of Saving Private Ryan is its story. Private Ryan has lost three brothers in other battles of World War II and he is the only remaining son of his family. The US War Department decides to send a rescue mission to France to get him home before he will be killed.

The real deal: Band of Brothers

If you are looking for a good story, the director and the star of Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, have teamed up to produce the ultimate movie about World War II with great characters, a great script and in the same old-style cinematography as Saving Private Ryan.

However, you will need a bit of time, as Band of Brothers was produced as a TV series of almost 12 hours. It is actually not only about D-Day, but follows one company of a US Parachute Infantry Regiment from their basic training in the USA, to the preparation for the landing in France, to D-Day, the liberation of Europe, including the most moving part about the liberation of a concentration camp until the end of World War II in the Bavarian Alps.

Because of the time available, Band of Brothers can develop the characters with much more depth than the other films. The series covers a time span of two years, with highs and lows in the Allied war efforts, with victories and retreats, with summer lulls and fierce winter battles. What I especially liked about Band of Brothers is that it takes the time to depict some battles in such a detail that one learns about the strategy and the tactics used. Very useful for some of us!


If I had to pick one of the above, I would not hesitate to choose Band of Brothers over the other two. If you have already seen all of the above, I recommend some alternative history with Inglourious Basterds.

Posted in Films, History, Military, World War II | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Thoughts of the Day 14

  1. If I am ever on a quiz show, my telephone joker will be the dude who wrote Wikipedia.
  2. Suki Kim has done impressive undercover reporting in North Korea, fooling both her employer, by pretending that she was a devout Christian, and of course the North Korean government.
  3. The resulting book is Without you, there is no us: my secret life teaching the sons of North Korea’s elite
  4. If I had listened to all the well-meaning advice I ever got, I would lead a boring life.
  5. “Oh, your Spanish is very good,” people all over Latin America tell me. I thought it was a personal compliment until I realized that my Bolivian accent makes me sound more refined.
  6. After my trip in South America, I have an unused but not generally useless package of anti-malaria medicine to give away.
  7. On the other hand, thanks to climate change, malaria flies will soon badger us in Europe.
  8. In the 18th century, Catholic clergy in Mexico tried to christianize the Nahuatl god Quetzalcoatl by arguing that he was in reality the apostle St Thomas, who had come to the New World before the Spanish to deliver the word of God to the Indians.
  9. Colombia has neo-Nazis, too. 
  10. These cyber attacks can be really bad. I wonder when we will return to analogue record keeping.
  11. Superstition brings bad luck.
  12. Whenever someone talks of bitcoin and blockchain, I just hear “bla bla bullshit bla bla”.
  13. Foucault’s Pendulum reads like a satire of The Da Vinci Code, only that the former was written before the latter.
  14. Thanks to faithful reader Silke Wahle for sending me Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.
  15. In all of Saudi Arabia, there is only one cinema.
  16. The scary vision of all-encompassing social scores is becoming reality in China.
  17. Nobody is normal.
  18. Anu returns to school in Birmingham after receiving a leg prosthesis:

Posted in Bolivia, Books, China, Colombia, Economics, Education, Environment, Health, Language, Life, Mexico, North Korea, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Technology, Travel, UK | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

The Port of Gorey

Gorey port lamp(The photo was taken at Gorey on Jersey.)

Posted in Jersey, Photography, Travel, UK | Tagged | 12 Comments

Lynching in Bolivia

In many places in Bolivia, I saw life-size dolls dangling from lamp posts, power poles, walls and even next to the church. I was unable to figure out what they were supposed to represent.


When I asked about it, I always received evasive replies referring to “custom” or limited to explanations that explain absolutely nothing, like “that’s what people do around here”. At first, I thought my Spanish was too bad to understand, but over time it became obvious that nobody wanted to talk about it. Until I met a girl in La Paz who explained quite openly, while we were walking around El Alto, that the dolls serve as a warning: “In this part of town, we’ll hang you if we catch you stealing.”


And these are no empty threats. Take this woman and her two children for example. They were accused of stealing a car and tied to a mahogany tree that houses nests of the red fire ant. The woman died from ant bites. The children were rescued by police.


As a lawyer, I am rather skeptical towards these practices, for how is the mob supposed to evaluate evidence and mitigating circumstances? How to guarantee a fair trial? How to determine adequate punishment? I can also imagine that lynching disadvantages the poor, the less educated or the mentally ill even more than the state justice system. As we say in Bolivia:

Justice is like a snake. Its bite is harder on those who have to walk barefoot.

And sometimes, lynching may simply be the fastest way to get rid of a member of the community who is annoying or disliked.

According to the ombudsmann, there were 41 cases of lynching in 2014, of which 13 resulted in a death. But I doubt that the ombudsman learns of everything going on in the country.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

Posted in Bolivia, Law, Photography, Travel | Tagged | 11 Comments

Book Markets in the Middle East

In Iraq, booksellers leave the books at the side of the road overnight, thinking: “Readers don’t steal, and thieves don’t read.”


That reminds me of an episode during my first visit to Iran.

In a used-book shop, I found so many interesting books in English and German that the owner carefully asked me after a while if I needed more time. “Why?” I was wondering. “Oh, it’s just that I would like to go to lunch soon,” he explained. No problem. I would come back in an hour, I said. “No, no, you don’t have to leave,” he replied. “If you can still spend half an hour here, I will quickly go to lunch and you can stay here in the meantime.” So he left his store to a complete stranger.

At the book markets near the University of Tehran, I learned that the most interesting and the most foreign-language books can be found in the most hidden shops. After entering a run-down building, going to the second courtyard, walking up to the fourth floor and then crossing through some other shops until you reach the last room, you find the place where the literature from the time before the Islamic Revolution in 1979 is being kept.

In a shop for law books, I met an Iranian lawyer who asked me where I was from. “From Germany.” “Oh, Germany! I love three things about Germany: Andreas Brehme, the Frankfurter Schule and Hugo Grotius.“ Andreas Brehme had already retired by that time and Hugo Grotius was actually Dutch, but still, I found it an impressive line-up. Usually, people only think of Hitler and Mercedes-Benz when I disclose my country of origin.

(Thanks to Alaa Sattar for the photo of Houwaish market in Najaf in Iraq. – Hier geht es zur deutschen Fassung.)

Posted in Books, Iran, Travel | Tagged , | 7 Comments

“Death in Venice”

… and there goes Gustav von Aschenbach:

Death in Venice is not my favorite book by Thomas Mann, but he is one of my most favorite authors.

I have met a few people who have dismissed Thomas Mann as a writer after reading “Death in Venice”. In doing so, they commit the literary mistake of their lifetime. Try “Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man” for a light, entertaining read or “Buddenbrooks” for a family saga. If you are up for more of a challenge – and a treat – , read “The Magic Mountain” or “Doctor Faustus” if you are interested in music.

(C) for the photo: Andreas Moser, in Venice in January 2012

Posted in Books, Death, Italy, Photography | Tagged , | 1 Comment