29 September 2005

Blog lite

I'm afraid it's been blog lite around these parts for the last couple of days and it's going to remain that way in the near future too. The reason? On Saturday, I'm moving across the country to Trier. This week, I've been running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to get hold of furniture for my new flat, packing, and getting all the administrative stuff sorted. I hope to get a chance to do a proper post this evening, and perhaps even one tomorrow. After that, though, I'm going to be incommunicado for a few days.

My new flat does not yet have either telephone or internet access set up, so I probably won't be able to get online at all over the long weekend. (Monday is a public holiday here, it's German Unification Day). As a result, after tomorrow I probably won't get a chance to post anything until at least Tuesday.

Once I'm up and running in Trier, I'm going to start trying to import the archives from my old blog. Since there's no way to do that automatically, it's going to be a long and gradual process, but I'll get it done eventually so please be patient in the meantime.

One other blog-related info nugget: you may have noticed that my posts now have links at the end with keywords. These are Technorati tags. By clicking on the each link, you'll be taken directly to a technorati search for blog posts using that tag. That way, if the post is interesting to you, you can find out what other bloggers are writing about that topic with just one easy click. I hope that this tool will be of use to at least some of my readers.

Anyway, as I say, I hope there'll be another post this evening. If not, you know why.

26 September 2005

Saddam Hussein and the death penalty

Writing in today's New York Times [free registration required], op-ed columnist Gary J. Bass argues that Saddam Hussein should not be executed immediately if he is found guilty in the upcoming trial in which he is charged with the massacre of at least 143 men and boys from the village of Dujail in 1982.

Professor Bass is right, but this is more by accident that design, because his reasoning is all wrong. Bass' argument, when whittled right down to its essence, is this: don't execute Saddam Hussein after the first trial. The first trial is only meant as a test case anyway. Wait until all the other charges have been brought against Hussein, until he's been convicted of everything under the sun, and then execute him. This will mean that all the injured parties get their day in court, everyone will feel that justice has been done, and we can all live happily ever after while Saddam Hussein hangs.

He's right about the necessity for Saddam Hussein to be tried for as many of his crimes as practicable. He's right about the necessity for all injured parties, be they Kurdish, Shia or Sunni, to get their chance to ensure that Hussein faces justice for his crimes against their communities. But he's dead wrong in suggesting that the death penalty should be considered an appropriate and acceptable punishment. It should not. Not in this case, and not ever.

The death penalty is inhuman. The death penalty violates the right to life, an inalienable human right. The death penalty is irrevocable and can be inflicted on the innocent (granted, not really a possibility in this particular case). The death penalty has never been shown to act as an effective deterrent. Quite simply, the death penalty seeks to right a wrong with a similar wrong.

For all those reasons and more, the death penalty should be abolished. It should not be an option in Iraq, just as it should not be an option in Iran, China, the United States, or anywhere else for that matter.

Now I appreciate that it is difficult for a columnist in the New York Times to come out and say such things, what with the United States being the fourth most execution-happy country in the world after China, Iran and Viet Nam, in that order. (Yes, you read that right, the United States executes more people than Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Egypt, Uzbekistan, etc.) But that's exactly what has to happen, if the US is finally going to come around and join the ranks of the majority of countries around the world which have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. It's going to take public intellectuals with a forum (such as an op-ed column in the NYT), and prominent thinkers with influence to make it clear over and over again that the death penalty is not ok under any circumstances. And until that bastion of democracy and freedom that is the USA finally abolishes the death penalty, what hope is there for seeing it abolished in the rest of the world, especially while the US is busy actively exporting its brand of democracy and freedom left, right and centre?

And before anyone starts accusing me of being a Saddam-lover, or terrorist-apologist or whatever the term-of-abuse-du-jour might be, forget about it, because I'm not. I am merely an opponent of the death penalty, in all its forms and manifestations around the world. I am in no way a supporter of, apologist for, or sympathiser with Saddam Hussein. I think he should spend the rest of his days, every last one of them, behind bars. And I think that even that would not even come close to being punishment enough. But I do not believe that the death penalty should be an option. Not for Saddam Hussein, and not for anyone else either.

[If you're interested in signing an appeal addressed to African Heads of State and Government, calling for the abolition of the death penalty throughout Africa, follow this link.]

European Day of Languages

Today, 26th September, happens to be the European Day of Languages, an annual event designed to raise awareness of multilingual issues in Europe. Or, as the official EU website Europa puts it:

The European Day of Languages is an established annual event, born out of the enthusiasm with which it was celebrated in 2001 (the European Year of Languages) and the need to continue to develop language capability across Europe.

The European Day of Languages aims to draw the public's attention to the importance of language learning, raise awareness of all the languages spoken in Europe and encourage lifelong language learning Hundreds of activities celebrating language diversity and promoting language learning are being held throughout Europe on 26 September. The Day also provides an opportunity to continue to strengthen partnerships developed during the Year at local, regional, national and international levels.
[Source: Europa (English); Europa (Dutch) - go on, you know you want to! It is European Day of Languages after all]

If you are not already one of the 53% of Europeans [or, pdf in French] who say they can speak another European language, or one of the 26% who say they can speak two other European languages in addition to their mother tongue, today would be a good day to get on to it. Again, the Europa website comes to the party with some helpful tips on how to go about doing just thatlink in Spanish].

And if you're not even all that sure which languages are
[or, the languages of Europe once you get beyond the completely obvious like English, French, German and Spanish, then this is the webpage for you. [or, link in Finnish] It has all sorts of useful and interesting information about the languages of Europe: who speaks them and where, who learns them, who teaches them, which ones are the most useful, etc. etc. etc. It's definitely worth a look.

Feel free to make comments in any of the European languages. I'll give deciphering them my best shot, but I can't promise to be able to answer in the same language!

[UPDATE: I see that AskOxford, the Oxford University Press website, is getting in on the act with an amusing European day of languages page here.]

25 September 2005

New Zealand Green MP goes au naturel

Well, it had to happen. Keith Locke, the New Zealand MP who made a rather rash promise during the election campaign has kept his word and strolled (nearly) naked through the main street of a central Auckland suburb. For those not in the know, here's the background.

During the recent election campaign in New Zealand Keith Locke, a Green MP, said that if Rodney Hide (another MP, the leader of the ACT Party) won the seat for the Epsom electorate, he would run naked through Epsom. At the time he made this promise, Rodney Hide looked for all money like he was well and truly out of the race. Locke clearly thought he was safe. But Hide pulled off a remarkable come back and in the end won the Epsom seat easily. That left Locke with no choice but to follow through on his by now very widely publicised promise. And now he has.

BBC News covers the story.

Presumably to everyone's relief, Keith Locke went for a creative interpretation of 'naked'. He took his stroll wearing a Calvin Klein thong and a full suit of body paint. Clever, creative, and a good way to avoid being arrested for indecent exposure.

I've pinched the above photo from PC at NotPC, who was there. There are more photos too, for example this gem. Hats off to PC for sacrificing himself in the name of blogging the news!

Unfortunate New Zealand and Germany links

Under normal circumstances, I'm pretty thrilled when I find a news story or other tidbit which links my home country with my chosen country of abode. But not this time. This week there are two news stories linking Germany and New Zealand and both are bad, bad, bad.

First came the grim story of Birgit Brauer, a German backpacker from Dresden, who was murdered in a National Park near New Plymouth, apparently while hitchhiking. She was just 28 and had been living, working and travelling in New Zealand for eight months. Police are still investigating and working through tips and information they've received, but so far there don't appear to be any hot leads. It would seem that the police have not exactly handled this case ideally, having made a blunder by accidentally making sensitive information available via the internet. D'oh! But the most astonishing thing about this story is the fact that the day after the murder, both Tourism NZ and the Automobile Association went public to declare that hitchhiking in New Zealand is safe. You what? Um, do you want to be the one to tell them, or should I? Or, as Shona at Restless Kiwi put it:
Why don't they look the girl's parents in the eyes and say that?
Quite. Muppets.

And then there was the unfortunate story of the 23 year-old New Zealander who was found dead at the bottom of a hill near the Andechs Monastery in Bavaria, where he had been drinking with friends to "train" for the Oktoberfest. No, seriously, it's true. Expatica and the New Zealand Herald both have the unpleasant details.

And how bad does this quote from Expatica make us Kiwis look?
Thousands of New Zealanders gather at Oktoberfest, the beer festival, every year, and pay a mass visit to Andechs on the Thursday before Oktoberfest begins so that they can 'train' to drink more.
Nice. Almost enough to make you wish you were an Australian. Almost. No wonder New Zealanders are not popular guests at the Oktoberfest.

But even worse than that is this astonishing piece of denial from the hapless Kiwi drinker's father in the New Zealand Herald:
But Mr Paterson's father Murray Paterson yesterday denied claims his son had been heavily intoxicated. He said Richard had been at the monastery bar only a short time and had not had much to drink.

"He definitely died in a fall but it doesn't sound like he had been drinking much - he was only there for three hours," Murray Paterson told the Herald on Sunday.
Oh please! I really feel for the Paterson family at what must be a very difficult time, but come on. Quite apart from the fact that we learn from the Expatica article that "fellow tourists admitted they had been too drunk to remember if he was with them when they boarded public transport back to Munich after their Andechs visit last week," does anyone really think you can't get utterly plastered in three hours in a Bavarian brewery? Bear in mind that the Bavarians serve their beer in Masse, i.e. one litre glasses, and that the group was at the monastery expressly to "get fit" for the Oktoberfest, and it doesn't take a great feat of imagination to work out that in all probability sobriety was not the order of the day. The death is still a tragedy of course, but is it really necessary to pretend that the guy was a luckless angel, when it's patently obvious that that is not the case?

I just hope that next time there's a story linking New Zealand and Germany that it's better news.

24 September 2005

Haloscan commenting

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

The Capital Letter relocated

Welcome to The Capital Letter's new home. This blog is simply a continuation my previous blog, with the same title, which was hosted at tBlog. Though I liked the sense of community over at tBlog, I simply grew fed up with the tremendous amout of server down time, the constant loss of blog posts and comments into the ether when the server was playing up, and the complete and utter lack of support. So I've given up on tBlog, and here I am at Blogspot. It had to happen sometime.

The original
Capital Letter will be left up, but I'll no longer be updating it. I posted links to the archives of that blog in the links section in the sidebar. It just seems like more trouble than it's worth to try to import six months worth of posts into this new blog, so I'll leave them where they are for now.

Over the next few weeks, as I get to grips with this new platform, you'll notice gradual updates, as I get this new blog listed with blog search engines and the like. I've already done enough set-up that things are fully functional, including HaloScan comments with trackback enabled, my blogroll and my useful links. More content will be added to the sidebar and my template and presentation will be tweaked as and when appropriate.

I'll also be getting in contact with other bloggers who I know were linking to my old blog to let them know about the change. However, I'm bound to miss some, so if you are a blogger who was linking to the original
Capital Letter and you spot this new blog, please go ahead and update your blogroll or links.

You can expect a first real content post tomorrow. For now though, I'm off out to the new Kiwi Pub that has just opened here in Berlin, to hear New Zealand singer Hattie St. John perform. Should be a ripper. And boy am I looking forward to having a few Kiwi beers, even if only to remind myself how inferior New Zealand beer really is when compared with the real thing.