Merry Christmas, War is over

John Lennon:

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas War is over
For weak and for strong If you want it
For rich and the poor ones War is over
The world is so wrong Now
And so Happy Christmas War is over
For black and for white If you want it
For yellow and red ones War is over
Let's stop all the fight Now

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas War is over
And what have we done If you want it
Another year over War is over
And a new one just begun Now
And so Happy Christmas War is over
I hope you have fun If you want it
The near and the dear one War is over
The old and the young Now

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

War is over if you want it
War is over now


Obligation to follow orders

The Milgram Experiment:

Milgram, who also came up with the theory behind "six degrees of separation" -- the idea that everyone is connected to everyone else through a small number of acquaintances -- set out to figure out why people would turn against their own neighbors in circumstances such as Nazi-occupied Europe. Referring to Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann, Milgram wrote in 1974, "Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?"

His experiment in its standard form included a fake shock machine, a "teacher," a "learner" and an experimenter in a laboratory setting. The participant was told that he or she had to teach the student to memorize a pair of words, and the punishment for a wrong answer was a shock from the machine.

The teacher sat in front of the shock machine, which had 30 levers, each corresponding to an additional 15 volts. With each mistake the student made, the teacher had to pull the next lever to deliver a more painful punishment.

While the machine didn't generate shocks and a recorded voice track simulated painful reactions, the teacher was led to believe that he or she was shocking a student, who screamed and asked to leave at higher voltages, and eventually fell silent.

If the teacher questioned continuing as instructed, the experimenter simply said, "The experiment requires that you go on," said Thomas Blass, author of the biography "The Man Who Shocked The World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram" and the Web site StanleyMilgram.com.

About 65 percent of participants pulled levers corresponding to the maximum voltage -- 450 volts -- in spite of the screams of agony from the learner.

"What the experiment shows is that the person whose authority I consider to be legitimate, that he has a right to tell me what to do and therefore I have obligation to follow his orders, that person could make me, make most people, act contrary to their conscience," Blass said.


Thomas Mann on screen

Thomas Mann's debut novel, Buddenbrooks, now available on screen:

Published in 1901, the book is a European classic that charts the rise and precipitate fall of a middle-class merchant family from Lübeck, whose younger generations squander the wealth amassed by their prudent forefathers. No one could have predicted the uncanny timeliness of its revival. The contemporary parallels of the book have undoubtedly struck a chord with a society in the grip of a recession and questioning the values of spendthrift capitalism.

Before the film's general release on Christmas Day, critics are already hailing its portrayal of a society eaten away by decadence and rash consumerism as a metaphor for the current woes of the west. Cultural commentators are also lining up to acclaim Mann's mordant critique of frenzied materialism and senseless spending as a manual in common-sense economics and a morality tale for the here and now.


Metaphor at war

Erin Steuter: At war with Metaphor: Media, Propaganda, and Racism in the War on Terror

Taken alone, using animal metaphors does not necessarily seem so nefarious. Indeed comparisons to animals – eating like a pig, strong as a bull – are fairly common in nearly any language. The danger lies, according to Steuter, when we move beyond simple comparisons, to persistent metaphors; people are no longer like something, but have become something. You’re not like an animal; you are an animal. Steuter points out that we have seen this kind of dehumanization before in some of the most brutal and bloody human conflicts.
In April 2008, it was revealed that the Pentagon, with the complicity of the major American news agencies, had co-ordinated the use of military analysts in US coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to drum up support for the military operations. The American media has been roundly criticized since for allowing military officials too large a place in shaping the media's approach to its reporting on the war on terror and related elements.

Steuter agrees that militaries – American and Canadian – have played a large role in pushing the animal metaphor. "I think there's a sort of masculinity and intensity and power in the military language and I think the media is sometimes quick to adopt it to take on some of the power and authority for themselves." But she is quick to add that chalking up how the war is framed only to military officials is scratching the surface.



My first book ever

I received an invitation to fill out a questionnaire for writers. It's really long, well over 100 questions, and I will not have time to do it. But, I can answer some questions here.

1. First book you ever read.

That one is easy. First or not, the only book I can remember from early childhood is Bullerbyn, by Astrid Lindgren. It is amazing that I can see the cover so vividly to this day. I believe we had to read it in the first year at school, and I remember that we had homework - draw a scene from the book. I even remember the scene I took back to school and received the highest mark, although the scene was drawn by my mother...

2. How did you begin to write

Embarrassing story, but true. I knew very early on that I would write some day, though I never rushed to it. One day I read a short story by this very well known author. I did not like the story, so I decided to re-write it. And I did. I completely rewrote it. Then I showed both versions to my friends and asked for their verdict. They picked my version. To this day I remember their faces when they found out who wrote it. Of course, it wasn't really my story, it was plagiarism, but this experience (repeated several times with other short stories) allowed me to learn some basics, such as story structure. And the day came when I wrote my very own. I showed that one to my pals, but I was so embarrassed (not because I thought it was bad, but because of exposing my very own innermost thoughts that go into writing) that I wrote two versions of the story and presented one of them as the original, penned by a "real" writer. Although the story was liked, as were some others that followed, it was a very long time before I could admit that these were 100% mine.


Are you making enough money?

Are you paid enough in comparison to what others in your field are paid?

Browse this website to find out how much others are making.

I've noticed that no writers are listed, so in case you are wandering what authors are paid for their books you can check this chart.


Why you need a phone with a removable battery

The FBI appears to have begun using a novel form of electronic surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile phone's microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.

The technique is called a "roving bug," and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him. MORE

Isn't it rather embarrassing when a respectable tech mag refers to an old trick as "novel"?

But, I digress. I meant to say: it shows you why you need a phone with a removable battery, and why you should remove it when you are discussing the next bank job.

Why the CIA makes a good subject for a thriller

If the C.I.A.’s human spy arm was operating as a private business, it would be running at a loss. Think Detroit, not 007. Why? First, the agency is simply too insular. It does not sufficiently tap into the expertise that exists across the breadth of America. The human spy components of the C.I.A. live in a cocoon of secrecy that breeds distrust of outsiders. This is one reason very few officers have BlackBerrys, and those few who do usually leave them in their cars when they go to work. Despite their reputation as plugged-in experts on other countries, many C.I.A. officers do not even have Internet access at their desks. Worse yet, they don’t think they need it.  MORE

What makes writing about the spy world so exciting? The human element, so imperfect, so flawed, so close to one's own mirror (well, perhaps a funny mirror) image.


Passport application and visas

I am slowly collecting information for my next book, and found some details from the period that it is set in:

In order to apply for a passport (US) one needs 2 recently taken photographs; a group photograph should be used when a wife, or wife and children, are included in one application; application must be signed!, if the applicant signs by mark, two attesting witnesses thereto are required. A passport is valid for 2 years from date of issue unless limited to a shorter period, costs $10. It may be renewed for a period of 2 years upon payment of a fee of $5, but the final date of expiration shall not be more than 4 years from the original date of issue.

Some visa requirements:

Great Britain and Possessions - $2; transit visa 20 cents.
China - $2.50, good for one year.
Egypt – 10 gold franks.
France - $2.75, good up to 2 years, but a single entry of up to 15 days costs 50 cents.
Germany – 50 cents.
Mexico – no passport or visa required.
Poland - $4, good up to 2 years, cannot be extended; transit visa 28 cents.

If one brings foreign currency back home, one should remember, that paper currency is convertible at 44% of face value.

Leading nations of the world:

Data: 1938