Saturday, January 24, 2009

The news of the week has to be the start of Obama’s presidency (beautifully documented here). The inauguration was aired live in German TV, and I did watch it. I was still at work at the time of Biden’s oath; then Ines called and told me to run home to watch history. Yes, it seems my German girlfriend was more enthralled by the inauguration of America’s first black president than I was. The inauguration and speech were standard fare in my opinion. We already know the man can give a brilliant speech. What impressed me most, even more than the complicated live translations of Obama’s eloquence, was how happy my fellow citizens looked. America is supposed to be in dire straits at the moment, right? It seems the Obama idiom ‘yes, we can’ has really found an audience. Obviously, every new leader brings along promises to change the status quo (at least in some regard) and make things better. The special thing about Obama is that people believe his vision; he will succeed in revolutionizing America. I don’t mean to be cynical. I think the man will be a clever and capable leader. However, macroeconomic trends, institutional malpractice, and overindulgent lifestyles cannot be inspired to change overnight. So, I hope that he manages to maintain the contagious optimism, even after the honeymoon is over.

An interesting tangent to the Obama-mania, is the frenzy of Bush-bashing. Since the democratic takeover of Congress in 2006, it is as if we forgot about Bush. Those elections were interpreted by many as a rebuke to Bush, a beginning of the end. They effectively crippled his policy-making ability, forcing him to pursue a more moderate agenda the last few years. And when he stops unilaterally invading countries, it is easy to forget that he was a terrible president. Indeed, it seems that journalists and historians just cannot wait to list Bush as the worst president of all time. Justifications for that opinion are abundant: two endless wars, disrepute abroad, record deficits, increased domestic poverty, human rights violations, etc. He was, in any case, the worst president in my lifetime (though there are only four other competitors). Particularly summative is this 2001 article from the Onion, America’s finest news source. Scary how clairvoyant a fictional media outlet can be. As an aside, check out the article on the bottom of the page "Rural Nebraskan Not Sure He Could Handle Frantic Pace of Omaha".

Monday, January 12, 2009

I just turned 27. Happily, I still feel too young to have a mid-life crisis. Nevertheless, birthdays remind us that we are always getting older and never younger, which is probably why they seem to become more depressing each passing year. Generally, I try to ignore my birthday and treat the day like any other. This is a somewhat difficult strategy to maintain in Germany, though. The Germans, at least in my opinion, like to celebrate birthdays. For instance, a typical birthday party includes food, often a full meal with dessert, and drinks, all paid for by the person having a birthday (which seems backwards to me, but who am I to question cultural norms). It is also quite common for the bday boy or girl to bring cake to work and then be congratulated for surviving another year. In our department, we keep track of everyone’s birthday, and shortly before the date, money is collected for a small gift. So, given that I would receive something from my colleagues and my cake obligations, it was impossible to ignore that it was my birthday.

That said, the day was pleasant and not really depressing. I even took care of something that I had avoided for months; I had a wart removed. Warts are caused by viruses. As a parasitologist, I realize and understand that my body is a suitable host for a number of creatures, but I got tired of serving as host for these bloody viruses. The wart was on my finger and removing it was an entirely inelegant procedure. The doctor gave me a numbing injection and then just tore it off, leaving a large hole in my finger. I had the feeling that I could have done the same thing if given enough whiskey and knife. Nonetheless, even I found the whole experience somewhat disgusting. To share that feeling, I posted the picture showing the aftermath of this operation. Gross.