What Bothers Us, Existentially


SOCIAL
  1. Geographic atomization of our friends and family; disruption of traditional, localized, robust and long-lasting social structures
  2. Tyranny of markets and data: pressure to measure success only in financial, or otherwise quantifiable, ways.
  3. Pressure to have our lives and relationships conform to manipulative, manufactured fantasies
  4. Pressure to analyze, regulate, control, mitigate risk of, and optimize every aspect of our, and our children’s behavior
  5. Cynicism when it comes to individual freedom, agency and enfranchisement
  6. Cynicism and mockery regarding faith and religion
  7. The loss of humor, “gray zones”, mystery; cultivation of narcissism and “outrage”
Ultimately: our inability to formulate a positive, normative goal for ourselves and our families in the current social environment

TECHNOLOGY
  1. Pressure to constantly engage machines and screens (smartphones, TV’s, work computers etc.);
  2. The dependency on machines to make non-trivial decisions for us
  3. Fragmentation of our focus due to media; the lack of “quality time” to consider topics in depth
  4. Loss of our power to fantasize and create, replaced by one-way consumption of ‘ready-made’ images, headlines etc.
  5. Hindering of our ability to judge veracity, or value, due to lack of context or quality indicators in electronic information
  6. The recording and archiving of all activity, causing a constant anxiety about how we are, will be, or could be perceived
  7. Anxiety caused by tech’s ability to reach (manipulate, and/or even destroy) any human being at any time
  8. Idolization of machines; devaluation of our bodies and minds
Ultimately: our increasing vulnerability versus “our” machines; not just physically, but also psychologically


WORK
  1. Decoupling of our work from anything physically (or even intellectually) tangible; alienation from the product of our work
  2. The cynical, group view on the “meaninglessness” and undesirability of modern work
Ultimately: the falling away of work as one, if not the, main source of meaning in our lives

Day two.

So, day 2 is almost over.  Well, I gotta say, we did have times when we pondered why in the world we decided to do this…  Every smell elicits a sense of hunger and longing, every store we pass beckons with chocolates, salamis, or fresh croissants.  Oh, to nibble again! I’m still getting to the deeper circles, but I’m sure Dante’s inferno will have the gluttons suffer by knowing they’ll never feast again (and I don’t just mean to be fed again with love, but also, quite literally, with delicious foods)!

Of course I’m exaggerating a tad, especially since most of the day (except for the occasional splitting headache) wasn’t that bad, in fact we had a good walk, I hemmed some pants, we went to see a movie and we got some good reading done, only occasionally thinking of how our meals comprised of carrot juices an seeds could be just so much more — so we closed our eyes and imagined the magnificent rewards that await us after next Thursday (the wind-down day).  By the way, we also entertain ourselves by looking at pictures of food on the internet, and learning about the history of croissants.

The Big Fast

The idea of fasting had been swirling around in our heads ever since we read Walter Isaacson’s  biography of Steve Jobs.  According to the biography, one of the things that made Steve rather difficult to bear by his surroundings was his varied and often fickle insistence on various, seemingly crazy nutritional eccentricities: apples only, carrots only, apples with ginger etc. apparently for weeks at a time.  His parents, and later his spouse and children, would roll their eyes as Steve jumped on yet another self-conceived trip of nutritional self-flagellation.  When I first read these passages, I did not think much of them, being fascinated more by Steve’s even less ordinary exploits.

Interestingly enough, however, both MB and I had been exposed to the dieting craze bug through our friends and co-workers; indeed, I first heard about the whole thing about three years ago, where an assistant colleague of mine reported of only drinking juices for a whole week; I dismissed it as hogwash, not having had read Isaacson’s tome yet and thus having “seen the light”.  The next mention was when two colleagues on my team embarked on the challenge: one made it, the other fainted half way through, and decided, ironically out of  concern for his own well-being, not to pursue the matter further.  Being susceptible to such fads and fashions, and anyway being a curious type for whom the promise of regenerative cleansing has a sort of (but really only sort of) mystical veneer, I decided in my subliminal to try to give it a try. However, I was not sure whether MB felt like it and thus flagged it as a more long-term project, once we had gotten settled enough to try such alternative sources of entertainment and self-discovery.

Remarkably, however (and who knows if Steve Jobs had a hand in creating this whole fad?) MB also had colleagues who mentioned the juicing-fasting cure, (at least a ‘light’ version, lasting one week) and floated the idea of trying it.  I didn’t need much encouragement, and so lo and behold, a few days later, we were proud owners of (only somewhat overpriced) BIOTTA brand juicing kits, courtesy of a local Pharmacy.

We looked for an ideal opportunity to do the fasting, knowing that it would wear on our energy and nerves.  Luckily, we found an ideal slot before the start of our London trip — the fasting itinerary seemed to mesh like a charm: the first, most difficult days falling on a lazy weekend and the whole “experience” ending before we flew to London, and all the delicious multi-cultural culinary possibilities waiting to entice us there.

It was on thursday that MB had her last real  dinner with colleagues in Basel, I myself, not having been invited to any event, spent the night at home with bread and canned tuna, admittedly not exactly a worthy “last supper”, but then I didn’t think a BigMac would be appropriate, but also didn’t feel like cooking for one.

Friday was already a “transition day”, where we were only allowed a light lunch and started down the road of that cruel joke that is the “solid” part of the BIOTTA diet: Lin seeds swallowed whole.  Now, before I had opened the kit, I never even knew that such seeds existed, much less that you could swallow them whole (you can’t really without water — it’s like swallowing a spoon of uncooked lentils).  To be fair, we did have a final final dinner: potatoes and magerquark (curd cheese), which we were looking forward to eagerly, after an only-salad lunch. The baked potato, however, was much baked potato-like and thus a bit disappointing; the magerquark itself turned out to be much like sour cream, so we devoured it with much elan – the only bad thing about it is that it has practically no fat, and was thus a bit harder to swallow (that seems to be the typical thing all of these absolute health foods have in common)…

Now, I have to note at this point that even the BIOTTA manual we will be using to receive our dietary orders each day makes no secret out of the fact that this regimen is torture — indeed, for the various days, it writes “one day down, see it wasn’t that bad…””only five more days to go…” “hand in there…”
and indeed, once one starts the real “treatment”, one often wonders  why in the world one has decided to do this.

Saturday was already all abstinence, a collection of drinking various vegetable, plum and vitamin juices, and swallowing the Lin seed…  we tried to make time pass by by organizing our wardrobes, going to the Beyeler, and watching Borgen.  We were hungry, especially when, on the tram, certain delicious aromas wafted by.  We wondered whether we had become more sensitive to these smells since the beginning of our diet; we hardly noticed some of them before!  All in all however, our hunger was manageable, and the first day passed with less drama than expected: we still haven’t argued, or sleepwalked to the refrigerator and consumed a whole glass of jam.  Now onto the second day, and further down the spiral of our culinary asceticism…

The re-start will not be publicized.

After a long – let’s be honest – more than 4 year hiatus, I have decided that it’s time to re-start my blog.  However, because I attempted to pull this feat off several times already (and the questionable fruits of my occasional labor are painfully documented below), this time, I want to do it quietly and without raising a fuss –  like a light summer breeze shushing through a little village – so as not to set any undue expectation.

Another year, another blog post.

Many people — indeed, most people, are not really motivated by money.  They are usually motivated by an idealistic struggle that they really believe in — well that, or jealousy of someone who leads such a struggle.

It was this jealousy, or shall we call it “blog envy” that motivated me to finally post a new blog entry, the first one in… err… almost exactly a year.  Fitting that that last year’s entry should have been about new year’s resolutions.  In the interest of full disclosure, a pinch of exhibitionism, and a walloping of masochistic exploration, let me comment on my new year’s resolutions in retrospect —  meaning, in business speak, my personal KPI fulfillment in the previous year:

1. Re-start blogging

I may have tried to mislead you to hide the entire scope of my embarrassing failure on this one, but I’m too lazy to backdate posts.  The only lame excuse I have is I didn’t have time.  The whole year.  I procrastinated. To 2012.  And now I’m starting again.  Hope that convinced you….
Score: 0 / 10
2. Learn Sailing
Okay, so this we started, but didn’t quite get to the license.  Looking at the amount of money we sank *ahem* sailed off at the Zürichsee, I would say this one was a full hyperactive success.  We look to continue next year, perhaps with a different teacher, lake, and price plan.
Score: 7 / 10
3. play (more) violin
Do other instruments count?  Why did I put “violin”?  That’s so… limiting.  The point is I started playing piano, and… no really…
Let me compose myself.  So there was violin (one time) guitar (a few times) and piano (more times).  Okay, I admit I more or less flunked this one.  The resolution for next year will be “play (some) piano”
Score: 3 / 10
4. re-discover the art of writing (to illustrate the depth of my destitution, it suffices to say that it took me 2 minutes to properly formulate this point)
I re-discover this, every time I write a corporate e-mail.  Okay, I see that wasn’t too convincing.  I  did continue my journal, but did not make the world a better place with any more of my short stories.
Score: 4 / 10
5. attend more political events (like book clubs).
I did attend a book club, even if it was only in a representative role as MB’s boyfriend, does that count?  I can report that book clubs are no longer really political events (apart from the Nixon biography we got to take home as a very large and hitherto unopened addition to our bookshelf). 
Oh, and plus, I tried to start a book club, but nobody came. 
Does visiting a shooting club count as a political event?
Score: 2 / 10
6. focus, instead of just on input-related activities (reading the Economist, going to museums), also on output-related activities (writing, painting)
We did this, especially at the beginning of the year (painting), before we shamelessly reverted to our consumerist selves.  However, then we lapsed a few times again.  
Score: 5 / 10, not there yet.
7. refocus on core values (like living for knowledge, insight, conversation)
WTF?  Man, those old core values seem so distant now! I live for the 25th of the month, which is when my bank account gets a bit fatter. No, seriously, to my former self: “you silly, little, naive young man!!”
Score: no longer applicable. I no longer seek conversation with mortals!
Interlude: damn, why isn’t there anything here about working out??? I did work out in 2011, if my memory is correct, mostly in the beginning of the year.  Oh, and I went to the gym yesterday.  At 7 in 
the morning.  Boomyeah!
 
8. develop a certain positive attitude to work
Amm, not sure if I want to comment on this, lest someone from work find this blog…
Score: 0 / 10
9. do something crazy
 Luckily I said “something”, not “things”.  Because if I would have said “some crazy things” my abject failure would have been more apparent, considering I did not do anything really crazy the entire year.  I asked MB if she knew of anything, anything at all.  The best we could come up with: letting her drive my car.
Score: 3 / 10

10. learn to cook
Call Dani.  Ask him about the turkish dinner.  Call Gyuri. Ask him about the paprikascsirke.  Talk to MB.  Ask her about my meals.
Score: 8 / 10
11. continue to attempt speed reading
I  scored a late breakthrough with this one.  It was two days ago when I was reading a particularly boring article in the New Yorker.  I said to myself: “damn, I’m fast at reading this”.  But I still remembered the gist:  the yakuza are . 
Score: 7 / 10
12. …aaand the obligatory last point: go to the gym more often
Aha! Here it is!  I should just have read on….
Score: 6 / 10
Average: 4.73.  Result: F.  Ouch. Harsh.

So that was last year.  This year I have learned: no more resolutions…

New Year’s Resolution

For me, keeping new year’s resolutions is about as hard as getting up early in the morning on Sundays in the interest of “being productive”.

Much like getting up early, a resolution seems like a noble cause to aim for, but once the time comes, it seems so much easier to pull the covers over your ears and ignore the nagging voice in your head urging you to, at least once, live up to the promises you made to yourself, not long ago.

Thus, due to what economists call θ, or “time preference”* I will no doubt find myself, as millions of my commiserates on earth reneging on my oh so well meant promises.

Though this year will undoubtedly be no different, I will attempt to circumvent the problem by using a “shock and awe” approach: brainstorm so many resolutions, that by force of sheer statistical probability, I will be bound to achieve at least one.
1. Re-start blogging
2. Learn Sailing
3. play (more) violin
4. re-discover the art of writing (to illustrate the depth of my destitution, it suffices to say that it took me 2 minutes to properly formulate this point)
5. attend more political events (like book clubs).
6. focus, instead of just on input-related activities (reading the Economist, going to museums), also on output-related activities (writing, painting)
7. refocus on core values (like living for knowledge, insight, conversation)
8. develop a certain positive attitude to work
9. do something crazy
10. learn to cook
11. continue to attempt speed reading
12. …aaand the obligatory last point: go to the gym more often
Note the way, however, you might only know about my success at points 2-12, if I don’t break resolution 1. And, as we know, that one can be a hard enough resolution to follow
* (and what is tellingly in essence just another sort of egotism enjoyed by homines oeconomici – this time against their own future selves)

Very Random Comeback Post about Fitness Studios

It is my strong belief that there is a tiny lesson in each and every situation life serves up, if one just looks hard enough. Okay, so I really had to squint to make out the following observations, but it was all well worth it, for now I can present to you all the lessons that one can learn from one visit to the local Fitness Studio (name of fitness Studio omitted in fear of legal litigation / blows-of-fist from muscle-laden, involved parties).

Lesson I: Those lessons we learn as children can be valuable also when we believe that we are no longer children.
Remember all the books we used to read – or, to be truthful: look at the pictures in – as children?

For instance, the “Where’s Waldo” series?. They propagated the notion that there will always be, behind every topsy-turvy situation, a little bit of “meaning” — embodied in the fact that there was somehow, somewhere always a guy wearing a striped shirt.

Of course, little did we know at the time that this immensely simplified notion would turn out to be wildly correct, though after visiting the fitness studio for the umpteenth time, I can definitely state that Waldo does not wear a striped shirt. Instead, the real Waldo is an older, oriental-looking man with a beard much like the one I am currently touting, with short black pants and a gray shirt, whose exentric body movements automatically identify him as being present each and every time I visit the gym – whether he is powerwalking out of the dressing room, preparing to mount a “Milon Circle” machine (one of those contraptions with the bizzarre, proturding antaenne that are meant to be pumped in a rythmic fashion in a fusion of man and machine so perfectly ridiculous that I can only but refrain from indulging); or at the end, popping up at the automatic doors with his eerie smile, just as I am about to sneak out hoping not to have spotted him, just once.
Lesson II: Cute, innocent-looking girls prefer macho supermen.
Okay, so maybe some of you took less time than I did to figure this one out. I for one, grew up believing those “love is…” caricatures, where the boy and the girl are roughly of the same size, or at least of the same size category.
Alas, the cruel reality of the gym teaches us otherwise. Witness Mary and the Incredible Hulk, a staple presence at the freeweight section almost as omnipresent as Waldo.
I remember the first time I saw this duo in action, in essence a tragedy (at least from my perspective) in three acts:
Foreplay:

I go to the free weights section, chest-press 2*10kg+the bar (!), and am instantly proud of this small lift for man, giant-ass lift for someone who is essentially a boy. Enter cute blonde girl, who proceeds to said freeweight session, notices and endorses the 2*10kg+the bar with a smile thrown in my direction & I wonder whether I need to revise my preconception that I never have the luck to meet and date hot chicks from gyms.

Act 1: The tragedy takes its course
Enter giant steroid animal, who proceeds to add, to my 2*10kg, several*10kg (+the bar), upon which he receives a wonderful cooing pat from the above cute blonde. This incredible concentration of testosterone and muscle tissue now proceeds to be as rough with those poor weights as those weights are usually rough with poor me. His grunting is accompanied by general condolences ushered by said blonde chick.
Act 2: the sweaty catharsis
The WTF!8???!*20kg are now removed from the bar, and the giant belt girdling our Adonis is unlatched with the same ceremony as if it were some heavy weight boxing title. Our meat monster then proceeds to help said cute chick lift the bar several times, probably some sinister allusion to the fact that my 2*10 kg was something pretty close to what his girlfriend lifts.
Act 3: the happy ending (only for 2/3 of involved parties)
The drama closes with the two kissing, just to make her presumable conviction most blatantly obvious to me: the fact that her “partner” could snap someone like me in two goes some ways to addressing her need for that feeling of security she’s seeking in an exciting and fulfilling relationship.
Lesson III: Never, ever believe the official sauna pictures (or: actual content may vary)
Okay, it’s not like I went out and bought my fitness abo based on this:
I didn’t, because although I do still believe in some things (like the FNAC salesman who told me I needed a $125 gold-plated cable to connect my DVD player to my beamer), I no longer believe in other things, like “heaven”, or “truth in marketing”.

In real life, the sauna is built of a dark, sweat-soaked wood, more ruddy in character; and instead of young, beautiful naked women, there are old, hairy, albeit naked men.

Finally, unlike what the picture seems to insinuate, I no longer expect enlightenment, in the form of a satisfying bright radiating beam, to touch me at the sauna.

Apparently, an internet site called 123people.ch has made it its mission to gather pointless, confusingly garbled data about me for all to find and cherish as the first thing in sight when you google my name (uh-oh, so I just gave myself away…). Unfortunately, the lack of love with which the facts were assembled hints at computer involvement…. Apart from an assortment of photographs of random strangers who apparently, for some reason, come to the computer’s mind when it thinks of my name (one thing they all have in common is that they all look French and kinda sleazy), there is quite a revealing “tag cloud”, which I recommend to all of you who really want to start understanding me (it has this sort of “portal to my unconscious” flair, especially because I don’t get it, either):
Bayern Design job Eth zürich Martin Aktualität Hungary Contest Abschluss Teilw Unisg Flies Projektes Car design Blogging Graph München Austausch Best car Darst Boesch Mecon

as you can see, you were right, all along… and all those years you kept on telling me that I should just listen to that part of me that wants to burst out… you were talking… of course… about Teilw!!!

Let’s get this baby started again.

Yesterday, I was smoking a cigarillo in my bathtub with the lights out, treating* the room with Chopin from a stereo perched perilously close to the water…

In the bathtub, a little rhyme occurred to me:

In the darkness, there’s a light:
a cigarette burning in the night…

and with that, welcome to the understated, hush-hush, yet nevertheless significant relaunch
of dead flies, orchestrated, heh heh, from my bathtub.


* The wonderful German word “beschallen”, is, according to Leo, translated as “to treat with sound”