31 January 2009

Prostitutes and Tax-deductible Corsets

I have always been fascinated with the prostitutes on Oranienburgerstra├če. Yeah, they're beautiful, but that's not the point. Most of them look like they could kick your ass with little or no effort. And then there are the corsets, which create the most amazing tiny-waist effect I have ever seen outside of that Research magazine issue about weird body stuff.

In any case, the article in The Local exploring the popularity of the corset in Berlin's prostitution scene is interesting enough, but to the extent that it reminded me that the oldest profession is legal in Germany and the corsets are, therefore, tax-deductible . . . well, let's just say it made me a bit crazy. No, I don't have anything against prostitutes deducting their corsets as legitimate business expenses, but it just reminded me that I forgot to save my receipt for the colored pencils -- essential for a copy editor -- I bought a couple weeks ago.

I could certainly learn to pay more attention to my business expenses from these ladies, that's for sure.

29 January 2009

Stuff I Don't Really Get: SMS on the TV

This is just bizarre.

The way it works is that you send a text message and your message and photo, if you like, appear on television. Each text message costs 1,99€. Aside from the idea that people are willing to part with money for this, which is bizarre enough, the animation here is really weird and is accompanied by really weird music.

While the rabbit is waiting for text messages to arrive, he taps his big foot and shows his displeasure if he has to wait too long. Then when a message arrives, he hops up and down, whips it out of the kettle, and reads it. He doesn't actually read it aloud, but the text appears on the screen, like this:

Okay, I have to translate this message because it does shed some light on what's going on here.

No one loves you as much as I do. My darling Diana L, please talk to me. Forget everything that happened. Let's begin our love. Your A.

So apparently A screwed up and perhaps s/he thought that the apology would work better if Diana L saw it on television at 2:53 in the morning and knew that it cost 1,99€.

Like I said, bizarre.

26 January 2009

Hair India

Hair India is a documentary from B&B Film that traces the journey of hair: from a temple in India, to a factory in Italy, to salons around the world. The film's strength lies in the filmmakers' ability to expose this remarkable journey with humanity: the Indian women and girls who donate their hair to the temple are not exploited; the factory owners in Italy who make the extensions and the Indian women who purchase them are not demonized.

Nevertheless, it's impossible to watch this film and not come to the conclusion that there's something horribly wrong here. Perhaps it makes sense that hair lying around in a temple is a business opportunity, but I can't get past the feeling that these poor women really thought that their sacrifice was about something else.

As for Sangeeta, the Indian woman in the film who wants the extensions, it is too easy to write her off as shallow and/or ignorant, but there is also an interesting point being made here about notions of beauty in India. The pressure on women to conform to globalized beauty standards is huge and cannot be ignored. Apparently, for instance, Bollywood stars were previously quite voluptuous, but now the beauty ideal is based on Hollywood standards, which of course means skinny . . . very skinny. I felt pity for Sangeeta because she appears to be trapped; both in her belief that having long hair will make it easier to find a partner, and in a society that seems to validate that belief. I was also struck by the filmmakers' choice to make the consumer an Indian woman. That allows the hair to come home, so to speak, and it exposes high-society life in India, making the contrast between the source and the consumer that much more drastic.

Hair India is a brilliant documentary and I salute the filmmakers for their work.

Images courtesy of Arte.

23 January 2009

Bullshit They Can Believe In

I'll confess to gleeful curiosity when I saw the headline -- "Bush loyalists seethe over Obama's address" -- in yesteday's International Herald Tribune. While watching the speech, I was trying to imagine how Bush and his entourage must have felt being on the receiving end of that oh-so eloquent smackdown. The article confirmed what I suspected: Bush couldn't really be bothered, but his mates were not too pleased.

I was ready to dismiss much of the article as the blah, blah, blah I was expecting, but then I read the quote from Marc Thiessen that had appeared in Washington Post.

As the new president receives his intelligence briefings, certain facts must now be apparent: Al-Qaeda is actively working to attack our country again. And the policies and institutions that George W. Bush put in place to stop this are succeeding. During the campaign, Obama pledged to dismantle many of these policies. He follows through on those pledges at America's peril -- and his own. If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible -- and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation. (Italics are mine.)

Oh really?

The assertion that Bush's legacy is that he kept the US safe from terror in the wake of September 11, while true, nevertheless seems to ignore the fact that the events of September 11 happened on Bush's watch. Period. So how is it that such a catastrophic failure gets reworked into a legacy that the former Bush administration is proud to own?

Seriously, I wonder if they really believe their own bullshit.

22 January 2009

Eating Frogs into Extinction

You know how it is: you've got the remote in hand and you're channel-surfing mindlessly, when suddenly an image catches your eye and your brain starts to melt. That was the story on Saturday morning when I made my breakfast, turned on the tube, and was soon confronted with a report on frog farming.

Frog farming? WTF?

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much, but how much I don't know about the world continues to amaze me.

In any case, I was too stunned to immediately start grabbing screen shots, so my readers will be spared pics of slaughtering and skinning frogs. Already skinned frogs, however, are on the menu:

Since I missed the beginning of this report, I can't exactly say where this was taking place, but it was somewhere in Asia. The owner of the bistro killed and skinneded the frogs himself, then tossed them into pots of whatever, bubbling away on the stove.

According to the report, this guy has the best frog dishes in wherever this story was filmed.

Okay, so I knew that frogs (well, their legs at least) are popular in France, but I did not know that they are also quite popular in the United States and in Asia. In fact, according to a recent study, frogs may be facing extinction not only due to poor environmental conditions, but because they're so yummy.

According to UN figures, global trade in frog meat has soared in the past 20 years. France and the US are the two largest importers, with France importing between 2500 and 4000 tonnes each year since 1995. Indonesia exports more than 5000 tonnes annually, mostly to Europe. Frogs' legs are also very popular in Asian cuisine.

Wow. That's a lot of frog meat. And while I'm intrigued that so many people around the world think that frogs are tasty, I just can't get past the fact that they're frogs . . . which makes no sense given that I gladly eat eels. Ah well, if you've had frog meat drop me a line and let me know what you think about it.

Cute, aren't they?

Images courtesy of Phoenix

21 January 2009


There's a lot I haven't said since Obama was elected. Somehow the historical significance of the election rendered me more or less mute. My thoughts, though, turned to my grandparents who worked so hard all of their lives on their little farm in North Carolina to provide for their family, and to my own experiences growing up as a black child in south. And yes, I was also one of those black folks who never imagined seeing a black man in the White House; but there I sat yesterday in a daze watching German news coverage of the inauguration.

I have to disagree with the claim that Obama's election was some sort of miracle. To make that claim would be to deny the hard work and political astuteness that convinced the majority of American voters. I would also argue that it was the promise of real leadership that drew so many Americans.

When I marketed management books in San Francisco, I was particularly struck by two of our titles: The Leadership Challenge and Leaders, Fools, and Impostors. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that leadership is complex, and many people in positions of power haven't the slightest clue about how to actually lead their organizations. Listening to, and then later reading President Obama's Inauguration Address made clear to me that he understands clearly some of the most important aspects of leadership: inspiring by example and challenging followers to act.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is my favorite passage from the speech and strengthens my conviction that Obama is truly the leader that the United States needs in this very difficult period.

Well done voters!

08 January 2009

A Great Soup for a Winter's Day

It's cold in Berlin. Really cold. And when it's this cold, it's so soothing to have a big pot of something yummy simmering on the stove. That was the idea yesterday when I decided to make vegetable soup.

I missed the Turkish Market on Tuesday (it was too cold to venture out) but found these goodies at the Turkish grocery store around the corner. Lovely and ridiculously inexpensive.

Vegetable Soup

1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups diced carrots
1 cup each diced onion, celery, and fennel
1 cup chopped leek (white part only)
2 tbsp minced garlic
6 ripe plum tomatoes (peeled, seeded, and diced)
salt and pepper to taste
6 cups fresh vegetable stock (recipe below)
2 large sprigs fresh thyme
4 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup chopped green beans
1 cup diced zucchini
1/2 cup torn basil leaves

Place oil in a pot over low heat. Wilt carrots, onion, celery, fennel, and leek, stirring for 15 minutes. Add garlic during last 5 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and season with salt and pepper; cook for 3 minutes. Add broth thyme, and 2 tbsp parsley; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the green beans, zucchini, and basil; simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in remaining parsley. Serve and enjoy!

Vegetable Stock

2 onions
2 leeks, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
3 carrots sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
2 parsnips, sliced
150 g (1 bunch) flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
6 peppercorns
4 sprigs thyme

Heat a large saucepan over high head and add the onions, leeks, and olive oil.

Stir until the onions begin to soften, then add the carrots, celery, parsnips and 3 liters (12 cups) of cold water. Ad the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmering heat. Continue to simmer for 3 hours. Remove from the heat and strain into a large bowl. Using the back of a large spoon, press the vegetables into the strainer to draw out most of the flavor. (from Zest by Michele Cranston)