Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Biodiversity

The territory of Germany can be subdivided into two ecoregions: European-Mediterranean montane mixed forests and Northeast-Atlantic shelf marine. As of 2008 the majority of Germany is covered by either arable land (34%) or forest and woodland (30.1%); only 13.4% of the area consists of permanent pastures, 11.8% is covered by settlements and streets.

Plants and animals are those generally common to middle Europe. Beeches, oaks, and other deciduous trees constitute one third of the forests; conifers are increasing as a result of reforestation. Spruce and fir trees predominate in the upper mountains, while pine and larch are found in sandy soil. There are many species of ferns, flowers, fungi, and mosses. Wild animals include deer, wild boar, mouflon, fox, badger, hare, and small numbers of beavers.

The national parks in Germany include the Wadden Sea National Parks, the Jasmund National Park, the Vorpommern Lagoon Area National Park, the Müritz National Park, the Lower Oder Valley National Park, the Harz National Park, the Saxon Switzerland National Park and the Bavarian Forest National Park. More than 400 registered zoos and animal parks operate in Germany, which is believed to be the largest number in any country. The Zoologische Garten Berlin is the oldest zoo in Germany and presents the most comprehensive collection of species in the world.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Germany

Germany (i/ˈdʒɜrməni/), officially the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland, pronounced [ˈbʊndəsʁepuˌbliːk ˈdɔʏtʃlant] ( listen)),is a federal parliamentary republic in west-central Europe. The country consists of 16 states, and its capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 square kilometres (137,847 sq mi) and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With 81.8 million inhabitants, it is the most populous member state in the European Union. It is one of the major political powers of the European continent and a technological leader in many fields.

A region named Germania, inhabited by several Germanic peoples, was documented before AD 100. During the Migration Period, the Germanic tribes expanded southward and established successor kingdoms throughout much of Europe. Beginning in the 10th century, German territories formed a central part of the Holy Roman Empire. During the 16th century, northern German regions became the centre of the Protestant Reformation while southern and western parts remained dominated by Roman Catholic denominations, with the two factions clashing in the Thirty Years' War, marking the beginning of the Catholic–Protestant divide that has characterized German society ever since. Occupied during the Napoleonic Wars, the rise of Pan-Germanism inside the German Confederation resulted in 1871 in the unification of most of the German states into the German Empire, which was Prussian dominated. After the German Revolution of 1918–1919 and the subsequent military surrender in World War I, the Empire was replaced by the Weimar Republic in 1918, and partitioned in the Treaty of Versailles. Amidst the Great Depression, the Third Reich was proclaimed in 1933. The latter period was marked by Fascism and World War II. After 1945, Germany was divided by allied occupation, and evolved into two states, East Germany and West Germany. In 1990 the country was reunified.

Germany was a founding member of the European Community in 1957, which became the EU in 1993. It is part of the Schengen Area and since 1999 a member of the euro area. Germany is a Great Power and member of the United Nations, NATO, the G8, the G20, the OECD and the Council of Europe, and took a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2011–2012 term.

It has the world's fourth largest economy by nominal GDP and the fifth largest by purchasing power parity. Germany is the second largest exporter and third largest importer of goods. The country has developed a very high standard of living and a comprehensive system of social security. Germany has been the home of many influential philosophers, music composers, scientists and inventors, and is known for its cultural and political history.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

For spacious skies


Visiting America always makes me uncomfortable.

Americans long for a sense of connectedness, but are horribly wary of each other.  Every interaction with a stranger seems to be an armed truce. Unless one of the strangers is trying to sell something, of course.

As the Australian writer Don Watson notes, Americans often use the words freedom and security as though they were interchangeable.  Yet all one needs to do to do is fly somewhere in the USA to know that the two often sit at odds.  For a nation which values freedom above all else, in few other countries on the planet are people so pushed around, restricted, controlled, examined, judged, and just plain stiffed.

Maybe it's just New York.  Or its evil twin, New Jersey.

Master Right and I flew in from opposite sides of the world--he from Kobe, me from Munich--and met at Newark Airport.   We chose to recover from jet lag at one of the many nearby Econo-Snooze Inns.  Inn and Suites, let's not forget.

Right and I scored one of the and suites, with a kitchenette. We figured the airport and its poorly-served surrounds would be a crummy place to try and find a bite.  Better to pop over to a supermarket and grab a modest snack.


The view from the And Suite.

Not a great strategy.  The knotted hairpiece of freeways around Newark complicates even the simplest errand.   One might see a supermarket across the road, but need to travel a mile or two just to find a place to turn around.  And you'll get lost trying to do it.  Because urban planning, like all government functions in the USA, lives not to promote public efficiency, but to dish up pork.

In the end, we had to abandon the And Suite and eat at the Inn bit.  Now, this being a family hotel, the breakfast buffet the Mario-Hilto-Sheratot or whatever reflected contemporary American family values.  The hot course was a sausage patty and ring of scrambled egg, which one could place on an English muffin, with a shred of cheese on the top.  One could even, at great risk to life and limb, operate a self-serve waffle maker.


That is, it was a self-serve McDonalds.  These people had managed to de-skill a McJob.

No complaints from the largely family crowd who frequented the place.  There was a school group whose conversation seemed to revolve around what parlour games could be played for money.  One said that he had played dominoes for cash.

Master Right and have a few days to kill before I need to see an accountant in NYC to sort out my American income tax.  We have rented a car--no, let me correct that.  They have upgraded us beyond a car.  We're driving a Tony and Guy hair salon.   They call it a Cadillac Escalade, which sounds rather like a cross between the words escapade and escalation.  Why not talk straight and call it a Cadillac Troop Surge?

We'll keep you posted.

Monday, 31 March 2008

Chance Encounter with an Old Friend

There I was. Walking down the street, minding my own business. And what should slap me in the face but a giant cooch!

Of course, there was a woman attached. Like most men, I’m programmed to view her as nice, but merely a gift-with-purchase.

Coming from a gay guy, you might find that last sentence odd. Isn’t our programming different? In some ways, perhaps. And in some ways, we’re a little less different than we seem.

As a confused youth, headbang8 consorted with the fairer sex quite a bit—he certainly gave it the good ol’ college try.

And why not? What’s not to like?

Take tits. I get tits. Could play with tits for days. Bouncy, silly, innocent, tasty, curious, ticklish, fun. Generously-nippled and endlessly unpredictable.

Tits have real personality. Think about how they get all dolled up into a nicely cleavaged bust, looking a million dollars, ready to go out and meet the world eye to eye. Think about them when your lover is lying on her back, her breasts at ease—nipples akimbo, pointing to four and eight o’clock, opening her heart to you.

The vagina, though, remained a stumbling block.

My father had no stash of Playboys for me to discover, nor god forbid, share on the sly. Headbang’s first glimpse of snatch was when he and the young lady were already en flagrante.

Oooh. Scary.

A woman can be groomed, coiffed and manicured. She can keep herself perfect as a work of art. But a vagina betrays all that. It reminds you that woman is animal. It just seems so out-of-character with the rest of her.

That poster on the corner, not five doors from my house, was the first time I’d confronted female anatomy in quite a while. My first reaction was one of sheer delight to live in Europe, since you could never plaster your privates over a billboard in, say, Alabama. My second reaction was, yep, I’m still gay.

The poster sits outside a museum called the Villa Stuck, which is no stranger to the odd flash of gash. Expressionist painter Franz Stuck built it as his studio and atelier, after he married a rich American widow, of course. Some say that the Villa Schtup is the single building that most typifies the Munich Jugendstil style of art noveau, for which the city (and my neighbourhood in particular) is justly famous.

When the building and furniture won a Grand Prix at the Paris Exhibition of 1900, the Kaiser waved his magic wand and turned plain-old Herr Stuck into the glamourous Count von Stuck. This gave him license to be decadent, horny and perverse—the privilege of aristocrats everywhere.

Count von Stuck mainly painted figures from Greek and Roman mythology, which provided an excuse for them all being rather compromised in the clothing department. His most famous piece, The Sin (1893), caused a sensation. Hell, it caused all kinds of sensations.

One of the things that attracted me to the neighbourhood was the Villa’s roof full of tasteful dickage, ready to make a long wait for the nearby tram pass that little bit faster.

It’s grand to see that the current masters of the museum are staying true to Stuck’s spirit in their choice of temporary exhibitions. The current show lasts ‘til July. Plenty of time for the minge and me to reminisce.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Letter to a Christian friend, number two.


Thank you for your splendid invitation to have another debate!

Now, for those readers who may wish to join in—and I encourage them—let me point out three things.

The first is that we both enjoy vigorous discussions on matters of importance, and have since a young age. For you, I note that it grows from an intellectually demanding girlhood cultivated in the company of exceptional young women and the smart, articulate adults who surrounded you. For me, I grew to love intellectual debates because, in my family, we weren’t allowed to have emotional ones.

The second fact is that you are a believer. I am not. Your faith runs deep, with many levels of nuance and colour. With my limited gifts, I cannot hope to capture them here. Forgive me if I do not do them justice.

The third thing is that we disagree, and disagree with the greatest love and respect for each other.

Calling bullshit on me.

You’re quite right to chide me over that previous post.

It’s true, of course, that people don’t abandon religious faith just because their leaders betray it. Look at the Europeans who kept the faith after their crowned heads bit the dust, as you point out. It can be argued that those who kept the faith in a newly republican age (e.g. France) fared better than those who consciously purged it (e.g. Russia).



Faith weaves its way profoundly into our culture and civilization. A bedrock of shared beliefs are what make us function collectively, no? Morals are, at their most basic level, beliefs.

Now, you’ll notice a little semantic trickery here. I’ve substituted the word belief for faith. The two are not the same.

One can easily form a belief on the basis of what one sees, hears, or feels. Mostly, that’s how one does it. I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow because I’ve seen it before. I believe my baby likes bananas, because she wolfs them down greedily. I believe good health is our most precious asset, because I have seen illness.

When one hasn’t felt, seen or heard it, but still believes it, that’s faith. There is much that is real, but not tangible—even the most strident atheist must concede that point.

If you have faith, you don’t demand to be shown the truth. Demanding proof misses the point. Many faithful argue that it takes greater moral courage to believe in the sublime, than to believe in the obvious and demonstrable. A God is one such thing.

Blowing god’s cover.

I challenge you. You do have evidence of God. It’s called love. That’s what the scripture says, no? God is love.

Me? I like to cut out the middle man. I believe in love. Love created the universe. Love is eternal. Love is truth. Love is my Higher Power at Al-anon meetings. I ask myself, in any situation, what would love do? Love, I can feel. God, I can’t.

Love acts as a moral guidepost for me in the way god acts as a guide for many others. Sometimes, I don’t always live up to what love expects of me, and I need to ask forgiveness from those whom I love and whom I have wronged. I don’t mind telling you, this is a lot harder than rattling off a few Hail Marys outside the confessional.


When you reject the power of love as your personal saviour, and take a God instead, bad things can happen. Let’s start with Cain killing Abel, and follow the path to 11/9.


Of course, just because bad things are done in God’s name doesn’t make God—or a belief in Him—inherently bad. Bad things happen without the help of a God, too. I kind of wish all things that we associate with god were evil, rather than just some of them; it would prove He exists, in a perverse way.

Belief first, religion second. Or vice-versa?

Now, here is a big question. No believer has yet answered the question to my satisfaction.

Many of the faithful honour god by living a moral life, whether that life aligns fully with their church doctrine or not. After all, as Barack Obama recently said, the faithful can, and should, differ with their clergy. Most people do, from time to time. It’s your responsibility.

Fine. You may not believe that the words of bible and clergy are literally true—your own personal relationship with God tells you that. So why use such tools for ethical signposts?

Is the Bible any better moral guidance than, say, Aesop’s Fables? (Most of the Fables make better sense than the Bible, and they pre-date it, too.) The Buddhist belief in karma feels much richer and more loving than the Golden Rule, and predates it. And what about the doctrine of good ol’ common sense?


Which texts hold the greatest truth and wisdom? In which should you place more faith?

Does the church not express the congregation’s faith? Does the church express their faith but not their beliefs?

An interesting position on the part of the faithful, don’t you think? The ever-handy Sam Harris points this out. He writes that most Christians, in order to maintain their belief in what is morally good, decent and humane, live in quite bad faith with their professed religion. Most certainly in bad faith with much of scripture.


I did one of those little internet quizzes recently. It was supposed to tell you what religion best fits your beliefs. (Jeez. Raised a Catholic, I thought it worked the other way round—you religion tells you what to believe. Ah, the modern age!)

Well, it seems that Mr. Loudmouth Out-and-Proud Atheist here is really, underneath is all, most like a mainstream Anglican. What a pussy I am! What lousy Christians the Anglicans must be!

So what?

Are all these tasteful bourgeois churchgoers harmless hypocrites? Depends on how you define harmless.

Does it really matter that Catholics divorce? That Jews eat bacon on the sly? That fundies philander? That gays continue to worship in churches which condemn them?

Personally, I think it’s a very good thing indeed that most Christians are hypocrites. We would live in a horrid world otherwise. But alas, moderate Christians legitimise and often fund the debased activities of the doctrinaire ones.

Mainstream Catholics are perhaps the worst offenders. Public, secular courts brought abusive clergy to justice. Meanwhile, the rank-and-file laity disbelieved the word of their own sons, and fed the collection plate handsomely. For decades.

When the faithful stop relying on the distinction between professed faith and personal belief to wash their consciences of the evil committed in their name, that difference will actually mean something.


As I have said, my recent spell in the USA made me a Bolshie on this matter. I’m a terrible hypocrite in many ways—hey, I work in advertising—but this is one subject on which I will broach no hypocrisy. It’s too important, and the consequences too dangerous. As individuals, as a culture, and as a civilization, we can no longer afford to give matters of faith a special privilege. Faith does not prove truth. Often, it does not serve the cause of love. We know better.

I am really, really looking forward to our next exchange!

All my love,

HB

For those of you who are interested, the pictures were snapped in:

Kitzbuehl, Tyrol 2008
Montepulciano, Tuscany 2007
Indian Village, Detroit 2004

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

(Previously) Wordless Wednesday


I posted this entry as a contribution to Wordless Wednesday. But several people emailed me, asking to explain it. So, readers, this Wednesday entry is no longer wordless.

The pictures show an art installation in the guise of an animator's studio. (it was actually in a gallery space on the top floor of a mega-trendy furniture design store, on the Gaien-Higashi Dori in the racy Tokyo night-club district of Roppongi)

I have the artist's name written in kanji somewhere, but really can't decipher it. The animator was a student who developed a historical interest in the old pencil-test techniques which animators used in order to get the flow right on paper, before ink 'n' paint guys put the images on cell.

Rather than settle for the rough drawings of a pencil-test, this young man decided he would make proper pencil drawings (with shading and all that stuff) and animate them. That means one gets so-called "boil", where the outlines and pencil strokes don't quite line up from cell to cell, so the lines look a little like they're wiggling.

He worked on the hoof; completing a sequence, photographing the paper, and projecting it from his Mac before he stuck the pencil drawings on the wall. The paper images appeared in random order, I might add, so the observer finds it difficult to follow the sequence of movement. That makes it more into installation art than just a public workshop space.

The animator was taking a breather when I visited, so that's really all I know.

Maybe next week, the post will stay wordless!

Monday, 17 March 2008

The Great Interview Experiment. Here's Liz, Juan and family.



Liz's Year in Socks, 2007

Neil Kramer, Los Angeles-based freelance writer had a brilliant idea. It's called The Great Interview Experiment.

He's a blogger commited to the ideal of blogging; to its inherent open-ness and democracy. The moment you hit the Publish Post button, you're a writer, a someone, a documented life. Those lives make fascinating interview subjects, as much as any writer's life and outlook does. So he has been matching up bloggers to read each other's work, and interview one another on what they read.

I got lucky. My first interview subject was Liz, a mom from Richmond, Virginia, in the good-ol' US of A. Just about the coolest mom I've ever met.

It took a bit of coaxing to reveal exactly how cool she is. My first question, I admit, was a little blunt. Your life and my life are about as different as it is possible to be. Discuss.

She pulled me up on that one. Liz has sure earned her gay cred. She acted as a social worker in NYC in the late eighties, dealing specifically with AIDS patients. Remember, this was back in the days when no-one knew how HIV was transmitted, or, indeed, what HIV was. To associate with gay men...well, no-one quite knew if it was safe. Liz didn't let this daunt her, and she writes of the warmth she shared with the gay men she came to know. Bravo, Liz.

She also writes that the chaps gave her a very, very gay baby shower when she became pregnant with her first son, Alex, now 16. I can't really imagine what a gay baby shower might have looked like, except the pacifiers would have been interesting. I hope that both Alex and his sister Monica have a brace of gay pretend-uncles who continue to provide them with different perspectives on life.

Speaking of the kids, they have been on a smile moratorium since they became teens, and that kind of irritates their mom. I probed for a family-dynamics explanation of this, and sure enough, Liz confessed up front. She's the "family papparazzi" (should that be papparazza?). She loves to take pictures of her kids whenever they do something that delights her, which is pretty much all the time. The go-slow campaign on the smiles is designed, she thinks, to discourage her guerilla snapshots.

Now, Alex and Monica, listen up. Here's how real celebrities deal with the papparazzi. You surrender yourself for a photo-op every so often, smile for the camera, and then they leave you alone for a while. Try it.

Liz has a racy story about how she fell in love with her husband, Juan. Oh, and she's a master at all the puns on the name Juan, too. So don't try to get Juan up on her.

We discussed how, from time to time, she prepares Elvis-style fried bologna sandwiches for her family. Living in Europe, ironically, one cannot find bologna luncheon meat. Not even in Bologna. I asked if I might not substitute, say, mortadella? I shall never ask that question again. She is an Elvis gourmet purist.

But after her family, her passion is knitting socks. Now, this is obvoiously more than just a hobby for her; she's a real sock savant. Her 2007 output is recorded above, minus those lost in the tragic kittens-in-the-knitting-basket-catastrophe.

Personally, I think that she should turn this into a business. I can see it now. Elizabeth of Richmond. Bespoke Knitter. Quality Undergarments for the Feet. Remember not to underprice yourself, Liz.