Monday, 30 July 2012


Should I give a crap that someone who happens to have been born on the same island as I, won a Gold in the Olympics?  Is nationalism a failed, destructive concept from the past, or should we be proud of our country and be following Team GB in a flurry of patriotic pride?  This is an interesting one and a subject that I seem to have changed my mind on.

Personal Issues with Nationalism

Here's my deal: I grew up in a British army family attending forces schools.  If anyone was exposed to an obvious amount of nationalism (by Western standards of our time) it was me.  We had the national anthem played before films in the cinema, saw the Union Jack flying all over the place, Remembrance Sunday (with a massive dose of national pride) was the only time we would go to Church etc.  Mainly it had zero effect on me: I grew up pretty much indifferent to the whole thing, with no strong feelings either way.

My personal reaction: insert giant "meh"

As I learned about Modern History, however, I started coming to the conclusion that nationalism was was really, fundamentally, a failed, damaging political concept.  It was, in my view, one of the worst things to come out of the 19th century and wreaked utter destruction in the 20th.  No doubt this came in large part from my also being half-German: the reaction in the once most aggressively nationalist country in Europe to the politics of extreme nationalism has pretty much been a complete rejection of the whole thing.  It wasn't until the 2006 Fifa World Cup that I remember seeing German flags flying anywhere in the country, and then it was only for the duration of the tournament.  I saw an old poem praising "Deutschtum" (Germanness) on a mural in a brewery in East Germany a couple of weeks ago and it sent shudders down my spine.  There is definitely a sensitivity about this subject that is much stronger if you have a personal attachment to Germany.

A good example of my instinctive position was when I saw someone's profile a couple of months back on a dating site.  It had a Union Jack on it and I instinctively thought "urgh" and wondered if he was a BNP or National Front supporter and blocked him.  For a long time the flag had mildly aggressive, non-inclusive, and possibly racist overtones for me: I was well aware of the chant "There ain't no black in the Union Jack" (a crime against grammar as much as it is against the multicultural values I'd hope most of us possess).  The Union Jack evoked Empire, colonialism and things I would rather weren't part of our history or present.  I know there might be another reason why someone would want to put the Union Jack on their dating profile, but I just thought it smacked of "only white guys need reply" and didn't particularly want to find out if I were right or not.

EDL members protest against mosques. In Narnia.
The George Cross didn't evoke those same feelings as the British one: it was untainted for me, and made me think of country churches, cricket and warm beer... That was at least until the Sun started encouraging its use and you saw it flying on white vans with ENGLAND emblazoned across it, primarily during the football.  Then along came the English Defence League and the English flag unfortunately also died a death for me.
The Jubilee and the Olympics

Then in 2012 we had the Diamond Jubilee.  I shoved up bunting on my cottage, at first as a bit of a piss take, and in an attempt to annoy wind up a few pals on Twitter, but this changed.  Driving along I saw village after village decked out in Union Jacks in a way I didn't find threatening in the slightest.  I know there was masses of negativity about the Jubilee celebrations on Twitter, but I perceived it more as the vast bulk of people in this country pulling together and marking, agree with it politically or not, a highly rare historical event.

Britain decked out in bunting looked a bit like France on Bastille Day: a sign of people celebrating over an event that was for the most part inclusive, happy and without militaristic overtones.  I could have done without the pointless holiday on the Tuesday, but as a whole I loved the Jubilee and probably for the first time in my life, I loved seeing the Union Jacks.  I found this fascinating.

@LassieOscar says "Yay for Bunting!"

Next, and much more recently, came the Olympic opening ceremony.  I watched it with mild horror at first, seeing people kneading bread and leading sheep around.  I (like others I suspect) was full on expecting a car-crash of epic naff proportions - and what happened was an amazingly brilliant celebration of things British.  Somehow Danny Boyle had managed to project an image of this country I was hugely proud of.  I loved hearing the national anthem sung by the choir of deaf kids and I loved seeing our flag hoisted at the beginning of the games.  My feed was filled with tweets from people I wouldn't really expect it of saying "For once I'm proud to be British". 

What is Nationalism?

So what exactly is nationalism?  I'm well aware that it really is quite a recent concept, and one that is a "social construct".  We truly made this stuff up.  It's really quite clichéd and obvious, but look down at the earth from a plane and you don't see borders.  We've organised ourselves into nation states and did so quite recently at that.

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Pole or German?

I find it genuinely amazing that no one really knows what "nationality", for example, the great Renaissance astronomer Nicholas Copernicus was.  This was the man who dared to suggest, at risk of being burned as a heretic, that the Earth was not the centre of the universe.  He was from Thorn, in the German speaking territory known as Royal Prussia, which at that time belonged to the Kingdom of Poland.  No one actually knows what his native language was (he wrote in Latin).  When a student in Italy, he belonged to a German speaking fraternity, but it is quite likely he spoke Polish and German with equal fluency.  Professor Norman Davies concludes that like almost everyone of the time, he would simply have identified himself with his local home territory.  If asked by a modern day person if he were Polish or German, he would have answered "neither".  The Nobel literature prize winner Czesław Miłosz puts the question as an "absurd" projection of modern day concepts to a time when nationalism did not exist as we understand it.

Nationalism as a term wasn't even invented until 1770 and it originally was linked closely to the idea that people should rule themselves, generally in the form of a republic (think France and the newly born USA).  Through much of the 1800s, it was an idea cherished by liberals: a non-xenophobic belief which sat easily with core liberal values of freedom, equality, tolerance, and the democratic rights of the individual.  

Don't forget militaristic nationalism wasn't uniquely German, either..

Alas we're all familiar with the change in political nationalism that characterised the 20th century and that's where my and many others' objection to it stems from.  When nationalism becomes believing that others are en masse worth less than you, because of an accident of birth or acquisition of a passport, you really can sod right off with it.  

It seems to me to be an extended form of belonging to a cave or a clan and actually isn't even that logical.  Do I have more "in common" with say an elderly, conservative member of a Presbyterian church in the Highlands, than a young, gay, veggie, urban professional in Amsterdam?  Yes, the Scot and I are born on the same extended piece of dirt and speak the same language (ish), but that's really about as far as it goes.  (I hardly need comment that despite supporting Team GB in the Olympics, the Scot may well regard himself as belonging to a different nation to me in any case.)  The northern part of Germany where my mother grew up in has far more in common culturally with the part of the Netherlands just across the border (even down to the local dialects, which are startling similar) than to say Catholic Bavaria in the South.  It's only been in the relatively recent period that the border was erected and people's "identities" became polarised in the concept of the nation state. 

Team GB

So where does all this leave me?  Essentially, the older I am, the more I realise that as much as we might like to take a stance on issues, things very rarely are black and white.  Life really is many shades of grey.  I could have a good go intellectually at arguing all the negative things about nationalism, but at the end of the day, emotionally I know it's not entirely honest.  

Who wouldn't cheer on our Tom?

Yes this stuff is made up, and I have no real reason to be cheering on Tom Daley (any gays reading this, shut it :p), but I will.  I don't really care if the British, Australians or Germans get the most medals, but given I live here and carry a British passport it would be kinda nice if we did.  I'd also be a bit dim to see that supporting Team GB in a sporting context, is quite different to demanding Muslims should leave our country because of extreme political nationalism.  

When it comes to the display of the national flag, two recent examples have brought it home to me this really needn't be a bad thing at all.  2012: the year I finally realised it's okay to say "Yes, it's okay to be British" - meant most definitely it that 19th century liberal way.

Sunday, 29 July 2012


Classic Iceland Eyes from July 2005. Back then I wrote:

This church in Seyðisfjörður is actually called the Blue Church, or Bláa kirkja. Like a lot of the buildings here it's turn-of-the century, when fishing money poured into the eastern fjords, turning villages into important towns. Seyðisfjörður, nestled as it is between protective mountains on either side, is especially charming, and even the fog that creeps in in broad daylight adds a lovely mystique. The ferry Norræna docks here every week in the summer months, taking passengers to and from the Faroe and Shetland Islands and Norway. Unfortunately, last week a man was busted for trying to smuggle some poundage of meth into the country in his car, an all too common occurance on the ferry, but that ugliness simply cannot tarnish the beauty of this sweet spot.

Hopefully the drug smuggling has died down in the past seven years, because the stunning beauty of this side of our lovely island certainly hasn't. The shot below from a family reunion is a wonderful example, with it's gorgeous view due east, down the fjörð and out to the open Arctic seas beyond.

Have you tried Dynamic Viewing yet? Five new views in all. Use the blue tab at the top of the view page to check them all out : )

Friday, 27 July 2012

Waking up to these - Lip Dub & Salmon

It is a Saturday and all I felt like doing was lazing around. Feeling the blues on a Saturday.

I started browsing through the net on my bed and I found two interesting things. One was a yummy looking food, and another was a YouTube video.

The video showed an amazing boy doing a lip dub of Beyonce's music video. I watched it and I must say it made the start of my day feel better. Watch and enjoy!

I am a fan of the Rancics. I recently found out a new site they created called The first thing I stumbled upon was a deliciously looking piece of salmon! So hungry now:)

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Hibernate vs Standby

I am not exactly a tech savvy person. I do not think much of computers and its technical stuff. If my computer hangs, I just press the power button till the computer shut downs and then turn it on again. If my internet connection does not work, I just don't use the internet or just use the Iphone.

But, today I was fiddling with the display settings on my computer for like probably the second time in my life. I realised I did not know the difference between hibernate and standby. In simple English:
A bear hibernates during winter
My job requires me to standby every night.

It does irk me everytime when my computer shutsdown standy? hibernate? after I leave it for a few minutes. But, my life does not depend on the computer. Hence, there was no rush or worries to quickly  wait for the computer to start.

As I was saying... Hibernate vs Standby.... I could not figure out the difference it does to my computer Don't both commands provide a easy and quick way to leave the computer in existing last state and allow us to come back to work on it at exactly the same state later without waiting too long to system to restore itself??? So, I googled and ah hah there is a difference. SLEEP IS AKA STANDBY

Hibernate vs. Standby

Using Standby:
Your machine recovers quickly as your data is stored in RAM. The slower part is waking up the peripherals. Although your machine is in "standby" the power has been cut to items such as your hard drive and monitor. You're running your machine in a very low power mode, but it is still on. This mode can be useful if you're on a notebook and need to conserve your battery while you step away.
Windows Vista has enhanced sleep mode so that on notebook computer, sleeping computer will automatically hibernate when battery power level is low. It also has built-in Hybrid Sleep mode which ensure that system state is preserved when there is power lost.
With Hibernate:
The big difference is that your PC has shut down and is not pulling power. Another difference is that your data is saved to your hard disk and not RAM. This makes it a safer, but slower option for shut down and resume.
Not all PCs have the capability and are configured to Hibernate. If yours is, to see the Hibernate option on your XP shutdown screen, hold down the Shift key when you shut down.
Hibernate, or S4 in ACPI, meanwhile will save the data in physical memory to hard disk drive (HDD), and then power off the computer. In Hibernate mode, a file named hiberfil.sys which has the same file size as the amount of system memory will be created on the local disk. When user wants to use the computer again, the computer will boot up and load back the state at the last hibernation. The advantage of Hibernation mode is that no power is wasted for maximum saving of power. In Hibernation dormancy, no electricity is consumed by system. Beside, restore from Hibernate is generally faster than computer reboot, and is totally different from fresh start, as users can return to the exact state of last hibernation with all programs running and documents opened intact, instead of empty desktop. The disadvantage of Hibernate is that after a period of time, there may have fragmentation of file. Users will need to defragment the volume that stores the hibernation file frequently.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Aurora.. What Next?

A Brighter Day Will Come

This morning I read that President Obama met the families of the Aurora shooting as a "father and husband" as much as a president.  He told them, in a beautiful heart-felt speech, that the whole of the United States stood with them.  He said that "out of darkness a brighter day will come."

He, like it seems every leading politician in the United States (with the notable exception of New York Mayor Bloomberg) did not say a word about gun control.  I cannot help think that the reaction to such shootings, including that of Gabrielle Giffords, is one of a resigned inevitability.  Tornadoes strike the Mid West, hurricanes hit Florida, people are massacred in gun shootings.  It is almost a medieval form of fatalism: like the Black Death these tragedies are sent and people will suffer.

Life, Death, Suffering: all part of human existence

You make think it is distasteful for me to be writing this blog whilst bodies are still lying in the morgue.  I think that the distasteful thing here is the presence of dead bodies in that morgue of people who just wanted a night out in the cinema, not an attempt to look at the issues rather than ducking them.   You may think that this is an American issue and it is only for Americans to comment on and resolve, or not. Your argument undoubtedly has some validity.  However, if you subscribe to it, remind everyone to never comment on issues such as political oppression in China and Burma, people starving in Africa, tidal waves in Sri Lanka, the treatment of Palestinians, or indeed anything that happens outside that artificial construct you call your country.

Talking About the Issues

If I were affected by these shootings, I would not want (just) to hear Obama's dignified words of comfort.  I would want to hear why this happened and what is being done to prevent others from suffering in the future.  How will this "brighter day" come if no one is prepared to talk about the causes, much less actually do something about them?

The above tweet puts rather beautifully my own feelings on the NRA official line that "guns don't kill, people do"  I feel real anger at the suggestion that these are harmless items that are only dangerous when the hands of the mentally imbalanced.  They are designed to kill or injure: that is their simple and only purpose.  Perhaps the US does have deep problems with anger or violence that other high gun ownership countries such as Switzerland and Canada don't.  So what?  Take away the guns, and that anger and violence won't be able to be expressed so easily in such a deadly way.

The Problem Is So Entrenched

What also distresses me is that when gun control is raised (banning or even restricting) you are met with a barrage of "oh that would never work, ownership is so entrenched" arguments.  Is this ever an argument to do nothing?  Was Apartheid so entrenched that it wasn't worth fighting it?  You can produce any number of examples around the world from slavery, to the ending of segregation, to the political situation in Northern Ireland, where you find entrenched positions, powerful vested interests, hugely complex problems, and the requirement for massive political will to change the situation. 

These "it's hopeless even trying" argument can be seen in the contrast between President Obama's total non-dealing with causes and finding solutions, and President Bush's reaction to the 911 attacks.  Yes, you can disagree massively with what was done afterwards, but the complete inaction contrasts markedly with the highly and unrealistically ambitious task of taking on a chunk of the World in a "war on terror".  40 times as many people have died in gun related deaths from September 2001 through to now than did in the 911 attacks.  Where has been the will to do a single thing about it?

11,000 people die annually in the US in gun related deaths; in the UK the figure is less than 50.  Just think about that comparison.  Don't think that Aurora is an isolated event: just click here for the list of 125 killing sprees in the United States between the Columbine massacre and this one compiled by New York magazine.  Aurora is a particularly shocking deadly example, but such killings happen with terrifying, depressing regularity on a smaller scale.

Banning and Restricting Has No Effect

The "no point trying" argument isn't just to be seen in the US.  You hear it here too chanted as a mantra.  It is almost like it has infected the thought of otherwise critical, thinking people in Europe.  Yes, there are millions of guns in circulation in the US.  A total ban tomorrow would not end ownership overnight: how could it?  But guns require maintenance, become out of date, and new ever more deadly models would not be coming on the market.

Efficient Weapon of Murder: Back on Sale in the United States

It is absolutely remarkable that assault weapons were banned by President Clinton in 1994 and that ban was allowed to lapse in 2004.  It has not been renewed.  If I wanted a joint in England I wouldn't have a clue where to go.  Dope is available, yes, of course - but it is not as easy to come by as walking into a café in Amsterdam where it is freely on offer.  You are not thinking it through terribly well if you suggest that by banning or making sales harder you would not have any effect on ownership: of course you will.  It does not take a rocket scientist to see that the tighter the restriction, the potentially greater the effect.  Yes, Norway happened.  Where there is a enough determination there is a way, but the vast majority of such potential incidents will without doubt have been stopped by a ban on sales and ownership.  That is very simply borne out by World statistics on gun deaths. 

All sorts of other arguments are banded around too: it's not easy to change the Constitution.  Well, it wasn't easy to end segregation. It's election year.  Yes, that didn't stop the President's highly risky statement on same-sex marriage.  This is about mental health not gun control.  No; take away the assault rifle and someone with these issues cannot just go and massacre people this easily.

Why The Lack of Will?

I am left with a sense of incredible despondency in this.  It is almost as though there is no will to change things, even on the liberal left.  Is there some unspoken emotion we are not aware of?  Is it because even these people actually believe that the occasional massacre is worth it so that people can have weapons to protect themselves from the "underclass"?

A staggering 100 people have died since Aurora in gun related deaths in the US: most will be poor, deprived.  One American friend bluntly told me that many people see it as a form of "natural" population control.  It's only when white middle class people get killed at schools, shopping malls or cinemas that it even makes the headlines.  Is that the reason people don't seem to care?

The One Certainty

The only certainty about a difficult, complex situation is that if you do not even try to resolve it, and worse won't even talk about doing so, it will remain.  Hope or blind faith will not "make a brighter day come" as the people of the Middle Ages believed.  Bold, strong, political action just might.  It is certainly worth a go.  Without it we will be hearing the same speech President Obama did today in five years, in fifteen years, in fifty years time.

Rest in peace, victims of Aurora.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Draw Something

If you follow me on Twitter you'll know I love playing a game called "Draw Something".  I used to see people mentioning it and didn't have a clue what everyone was going on about.  This is a quick explanation plus an opportunity to stop clogging up your timelines with my "art work" by creating a little gallery of some of my favourite drawings.

The Game

The game is played on either an iPhone/iPad or an Android.  It's downloadable as a free app (with mildly annoying adverts) or you splash out the heady sum of two squid to get the ad free version.  It's possible to try it out for free first and upgrade without losing all your games.

Basically it's like Pictionary (remember that?) but on a phone, with colours, and with no time limit.  You get a choice of 3 words and play against a single partner.  You can find them on Facebook, by email or by asking a friend for their username.  It's possible to play random strangers, but there are enough people on Twitter you talk to who will play it, and it's much more fun with an opponent you know.

You take turns; one person draws and the other guesses.  You have a selection of letters when you're guessing and know the number of letters in the word.  Therefore if you can do anagrams well it almost doesn't matter how bad the drawing is.  The words are graded for difficulty: one coin ones are really simple (e.g. wink, or tree) and three coin ones can be as tricky as "hawk eye" or concepts like "insomnia".

You have to watch out for American spellings and words: terms come up I haven't even actually heard of on occasion.  You can guess whilst the picture is being drawn or wait until the end.  You get to watch a playback of what your opponent did when guessing if you want to, or can skip that bit.

Go Team Peter and Team Anya!

By guessing correctly you win coins which you can exchange for extra colours (which makes it much more fun) and "bombs" (used to remove letters when you're guessing, to select new words to draw, or to choose from special categories that have words worth up to nine coins).  You do running wins - I'm currently up to 320 unbroken correct drawings with my indefatigable and brilliant pal Anya Palmer.

Popularity and Why I Love It

DrawSomething was a "phenomenon" when it was launched.  Within 5 weeks of launching it had been downloaded 20 million times.  50 days on and it had achieved 50 million downloads.

In April 2012 it was sold to the games giant Zynga for $180 million... and immediately caused Zynga's stock price to drop by 50%.  It seems many people had initially downloaded it, tried it out, got bored of the novelty, and left in their droves.

I however still *really* love it - and judging by the fact that I have over 30 games on the go at the moment with people from Twitter, I'm not the only one.  If you are only drawing stick men in monochrome it will become dull very quickly, it is true.  If you have fun with it, be a bit silly, and make your drawings pretty, it can be a brilliant distraction.

You can come back to a game whenever you like, so it's a great way of having a distraction for 5 minutes in the middle of the day.  Go away for 2 weeks on holiday?  No problem, you just pick up where you left off.


Anyway, enough about the game: the real purpose of this is to show off some of my TOTALLY kick-ass drawings.  I spend up to about 5 minutes on some of them and really enjoy doing all the detailing.  I can't draw for crap with a pen and paper and am therefore amazed how these turn out with just my finger tip on a screen.  You can select 4 sizes of "pen" and that's how you get the detail.  I always draw the background first, then the actual thing I want my opponent/partner to guess.

There is also an excellent website I recommend called Crap Draw Something: just visit this link and/ or follow @crapdraw on Twitter.









And that (fairly horrendous attempt at a werewolf) concludes the highlights of my Draw Something career to date. Hope you've enjoyed :D