Saturday, April 28, 2007

I don't laugh out loud very often when reading a band interview, but I had to laugh several times during this interview with HORSE THE BAND. I wonder if anyone can be so crazy or if drugs need to be involved...In other news, I bought the new NIN CD. The CD actually changes color in the heat. Very cool.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Honeymoon phase

Today begins a honeymoon phase. I came back to Leipzig from Finland on Monday and Ines returns from Bonn late tonight. We have not seen each other for over a week, which is the longest we’ve been apart since we moved to Leipzig. This time apart was just long enough to ensure that we’ll start a small honeymoon phase tomorrow. What is the honeymoon phase? It is the time in a relationship when things just feel new, good, and exciting, at least that’s my definition. The relationship between Ines and I has been characterized by numerous honeymoon phases. As with most relationships, our first honeymoon phase started shortly after we met in Finland. Because we came from different countries, different cultures, different academic fields, there was always something indescribably fascinating about our time together. Ines was studying intercultural communication at the time, and quickly found the appropriate term to define this state, i.e. honeymoon phase. According to her textbooks, intercultural relationships are often characterized by a honeymoon phase in which both persons find the other interesting and exotic simply because they come from different cultures. Eventually, the honeymoon phase ends and is replaced by more difficult stages in which cultural bridges must be crossed and communication must be more efficient. Naturally, Ines and I both experienced such cultural and/or linguistic difficulties. But on the positive side, we’ve also had many honeymoon phases. This was largely a consequence of us living in two separate countries for about 1.5 years. When we visited each other about every other month, a new honeymoon phase began. During the limited time of each visit, the everyday annoyances could be ignored and we could just enjoy each other. While this may sound tolerable, a long-distance relationship can’t last forever; moving together or breaking up are the two eventual options. Of course, I’m glad that we represent the former. But I’m also happy that there is still the possibility of some short honeymoon phases every now and then. I suppose it is like many other things in life: there needs to be a good balance. In this case, between spending time together and time apart.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The past few years as I’ve gathered experiences and seen more of the world, I’ve come to support a rather disheartening hypothesis. Economics makes the world go round (not literally, figuratively). I’m of course not the only one of this opinion (stereotypes would suggest all Americans are cold-blooded capitalists), but it does not seem to be an opinion I should hold. After all, I’m a biologist who has never taken a business class or had much interest in money. How did I reach such a conclusion? I guess I just started to notice that many major events, controversies, and conflicts have financial undercurrents. Why did the U.S. win the cold war? More nukes? Hardly. Socialism, in a pure form, just isn’t economically viable, so the Soviet Union collapsed. Interestingly, economics (via high oil prices) is nowadays driving a Russian resurgence in power. What is the source of conflicts in Africa? Groups are fighting for limited resources (Darfur isn’t exactly a farmer’s paradise), not different ideologies. What has fueled China’s rise to near super-power status? Cheap labor fueling an economic explosion. Dido in India. Ok, these are easy examples, and I admit that the idea that “economics drives everything” is a gross oversimplification which ignores a lot of political and moral issues. In any case, I read something the other day that brought this little hypothesis to a much more personal level, and this is what I intended to write when I started this post. The concept of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels has been gaining support of late; turning crops into gas should, naturally, put a dent into carbon emissions. Most people, including me, agree that is a good thing. What I didn’t think about, though, are some of the economic repercussion of this. Increasing biofuel production will increase the demand for these crops driving up their price. That’s economics at its simplest. You may be tempted to now think, I’m not a farmer and I’m not keen on vegetables, so who cares? However, one of the crops being used to produce biofuel here in Europe is barley. Barley is, of course, a necessary ingredient in the production of that most important of fermented beverages, beer. Biofuel production increases, demand for barley increases, barley prices increase, beer becomes more expensive to produce, I pay more for a six-pack. What an unforeseen chain of events, at least for me, the economically clueless. But I think this connection between global warming and beer prices may convince some of the people skeptical of my initial hypothesis.

And for those who are curious, Ines won the March Madness pool. My brother and I were so ashamed, but my dad offered warm congrats.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Over the past few months, I've been devoutly learning the German language. While I'm in not at all "good" or even "ok", I can make it through a simple, slow conversation. In any case, my plight has given me a new appreciation of German and any pop cultural references to it. For example, the pop cultural library that is The Simpsons (best show of all time) made what is probably the most clever reference to a German I've ever heard, and I'll reproduce it here to brighten the day. In the episode "When Flanders Failed", Homer is enjoying the failure of Flanders new store, The Leftorium. Lisa, expecting a higher moral standard from her dad, asks “Dad, do you know what Schadenfreude is?”. Homer, ever annoyed by Lisa's judgmental nature, replies sarcastically, “No, I do not know what Schadenfreude is. Please tell me because I’m dying to know.” Lisa then explains “It’s a German word for shameful joy, taking pleasure in the suffering of others.” Homer responds with “Oh, come on, Lisa. I’m just glad to see him fall flat on his butt! He’s usually all happy and comfortable, and surrounded by loved ones, and it makes me feel…what’s the opposite of that shameful joy thing of yours?”
“Sour grapes.”
“Boy, those Germans have a word for everything.”

Homer is sure right about that. Germans do have a word for everything, at least I feel that way learning vocabulary. Too bad sour grapes isn't one of them.