Category Archives: Miscellaneous

L.A. Noire

I am not a video gamer. No, no, no! Not at all! But to my great surprise there is now a computer game I could see myself getting excited about: L.A. Noire. Its simulation of 1940s Los Angeles is simply stunning and mindboggling.

This is not an invented landscape! This is a representation of the authentic streets, buildings, landmarks and vehicles which really existed at the time, and the players navigate on a true map of the city. Here is a simulated police chase through downtown Los Angeles, circa 1947:

I never thought I’d say this, but this has gone on my “must try” list. Not that I’d really want to “solve a crime” or actually play the game — I’d be content with cruising around vintage Los Angeles for hours and hours.

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The Morals of Chess (by Benjamin Franklin)

One of my American heroes, Benjamin Franklin was a keen (and occasionally obsessive) chess player. He even wrote about the game and its implications. Franklin published the following essay in 1786 (drawing on material from earlier drafts of 1732, Philadelphia and 1779, London).


The Morals Of Chess


Benjamin Franklin

The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions, for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess, then, we may learn:

1st: Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action, for it is continually occurring to the player, “If I move this Piece, what will be the advantage or disadvantage of my new situation? What use can my adversary make of it to annoy me? What other moves can I make to support it, and to defend myself from his attacks?”

2nd: Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action, the relation of the several Pieces, their situations, and the dangers they are repeatedly exposed to, the several possibilities of their aiding each other, the probabilities that the adversary may make this or that move, and attack this or that Piece, and what different means can be used to avoid his stroke, or turn its consequences against him.

3rd: Caution, not to make our moves too hastily. This habit is best acquired by observing strictly the laws of the game, such as, if you touch a piece you must move it somewhere, and if you set it down, you must let it stand.

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Magnificent Desolation

A book I am currently reading. Great insights into the man, the moon and one of mankind’s greatest journeys.

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I often wonder how the U.S. really determines unemployment figures.


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How Mother’s Day Killed Its Own Mother

“It’s ‘Mother’s Day’. Not ‘Mothers Day’!”

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself.” — Anna Jarvis


Anna Jarvis (1864 – 1948) was a formidable lady. I should have liked the pleasure of meeting her. She is known for creating Mother’s Day, but she was extremely unhappy with what her idea had grown into.

Mrs. Jarvis championed Mother’s Day as a simple day to honor one’s own mother, the most special mother a person could have — not all mothers. This is why she was adament that it should always be spelled “Mother’s Day”, but certainly not “Mothers Day”.

The evolution of Mother’s Day into a commercialized celebration appalled and aggrieved Mrs. Jarvis. She launched a massive campaign against its commercial exploitation. Boycotts and vitriolic denouncements of candy and greeting card gifts were just some of the tactics used in her appeals to bring Mother’s Day back to basics. Unfortunately, she was hardly successful and ultimately died, some would say, from grief.

Brian Handwork has the story in National Geographic Magazine.

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Help Japan


Adventist Development and Relief Agency International’s Response to Japan Tsunami

All Hands Volunteers’s Response to Japan Tsunami

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Response to Japan Tsunami

American Red Cross International Services’s Response to Japan Tsunami

AmeriCares’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT)’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Baptist World Alliance / Baptist World Aid’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Brother’s Brother Foundation’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Catholic Relief Services’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Church World Service’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Direct Relief International’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Giving Children Hope’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Habitat for Humanity International’s Response to Japan Tsunami

International Medical Corps’s Response to Japan Tsunami

International Rescue Committee’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Japanese Red Cross Society (English site)

Mercy Corps’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Medicines Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders)
(has a medical team on the ground, but donations go into the general fund)

Operation Blessing’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Relief International’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Save the Children’s Response to Japan Tsunami

UNICEF (United States Fund)

World Vision, United States’s Response to Japan Tsunami

Please note:
Some have commented that Japan is wealthy and needs less assistance than poorer countries. This is a misconception. The nation of Japan has not asked (nor does it expect) financial assistance. However, the organizations listed above are currently expending their resources on helping victims in Japan. Unless these funds are replenished, less funding will be available for their global operations. In disasters on such a monstrous scale, we are all connected.

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Video Footage of Tsunami Hitting Japan




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Meeting Maria Altmann

Maria Altmann Portrait
Maria Altmann in her garden. Click to enlarge. © Reinhard Kargl 2000

Maria Altmann, heiress to Gustav Klimt paintings which were later sold for $328 million, has died in Los Angeles on February 7, 2011. She was 94.

When the Austrian state TV network ORF asked me to do an in-depth interview with Maria Altmann in 2000 — after Altmann had sued the Republic of Austria — I was a little apprehensive at first. How would she react to a reporter raised in the country she was suing for the injustices she alleged were done to her family during the Nazi era?

So I phone Mrs. Altmann to test the waters. But my fears prove to be completely unfounded. On the countrary! The moment she hears I was born in Vienna (as she was), Altmann immediately falls into perfect German slightly tinged with a distinct Viennese upper-class accent: “Ach, dann können wir ja auch wienerisch reden!” And she proceeds to tell me enthusiastically of the “wonderful” youth memories she has of the old imperial city by the Danube, the delicious pastries, the architecture, and the music.

She was 84 years old at our first conversation, still very busy working as fashion consultant and designer, interested in art and classical music, well read, highly energetic and articulate. I knew then that I was about to meet a most interesting and remarkable lady.

Since then, Mrs. Altmann’s story has been well publicised. Born into a family of wealthy Jewish industrialists in 1916, she was 22 and freshly married when the First Austrian Republic (the German speaking remnant left over after the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), joined the German Third Reich in the Anschluss of 1938. Like many other Jewish residents at the time, Altmann’s (and her husband’s) family assessed the situation correctly and subsequently scattered, leaving almost their entire fortune behind.

Among the family’s possessions were various pictures by the still relatively unknown Gustav Klimt; among them were portraits commissioned by Altmann’s family.

Adele Bloch-Bauer I, by Gustav Klimt, 1907. Oil and golden and silver foil on canvas. 138 × 138 cm. Click to enlarge.

Compared to what happened to others, Altmann considered herself “very lucky”. After her husband’s arrest, his brief detention and the couple’s covert flight from Vienna, the Altmanns were able to make a new, peaceful life in America, where they also achieved financial security.


Anyway, so we decide to shoot the interview at Altmann’s home in Cheviot Hill, a small and neat suburbian residential area in West Los Angeles, where the widowed mother of four children has lived for a long time. We agree to shoot everything in German.

Altmann is well groomed and dressed and exudes an aura of ladylike poise and charm. As usual, I let the cameraman pick the best setting (which he finds in the backyard) and while the crew is setting up, I follow the usual ritual: engage in a little small talk with the subject in private, then go over a broad description of my questions, have the microphones attached, do a light and sound check. Not easy to endure at the age of 84.

The interview goes very well. Altmann gives long answers (luckily I’m not the one who has to edit this) and turns out to be patient and charming. We change tapes several times.

But then, we run into a problem: every home in the area has a yard. And every yard seems to be maintained by Latino “mow and blow” crews. And they all arrive at the same time with their noisy lawnmowers, power cutting tools and leafblowers.

Oh, the ruckus! My sound guy is wringing his hands (and I have secret fantasies of wringing some necks). We decide to take a little break, but to no avail. As soon as one crew of yard workers is done, another starts up a lawnmower or damn leafblower somewhere else in the neighborhood. These things aren’t even legal.

I am beginning to get nervous. We have already shot two thirds of the interview; going inside now would be a continuity problem. Besides, I am under orders to ship the tapes off right away. Meanwhile, the sunlight is beginning to fade, and so does Altmann’s ability to concentrate. Great.

I call a break again (probably the for the 5th time) and go outside to talk to the yard workers. Of course, they pretend to understand no Ingles. I know the game, so I put on my crazy gringo act and somehow convince the workers to take a break for a few minutes. I don’t know if they agree to hold the work because of the bribe I offer (for which I have no expense account, of course), because they think I am nuts (and possibly dangerous) or because they genuinely feel bad about preventing me from doing my job.

Whew! The cameraman plays some tricks with the white balance to compensate for the different light temperature as much as possible, and we hurry to continue and finish up.

Altmann is “terribly sorry” for all the trouble even though she didn’t cause it. She invites me for coffee, which she prepares herself.

I send the crew on their way. They are eager to get on the freeway, since rush hour has begun. Altmann has lots of time, enjoys the company, and the opportunity to talk about Vienna auf Deutsch. I know (and appreciate) that people from Vienna take their Kaffeejause (coffee break) very seriously.

I am amazed that Altmann, through it all, still feels connected with Austria. I recall pictures of the Alps and mementos of Austrian cities in her home. Whatever ill feelings she might have are directed at the individuals whom she believes have wronged her, but not at the entire place or German culture as a whole. Most likely, this attitude is what allowed her to cope and carry on with her life. It’s not even about the money, she insists, but about justice. Money, she says, has never meant anything to her. “At this stage in my life, I would not even know what to buy with it.”

Altmann keeps pouring coffee and brings plates of food, and it is long after darkness has fallen when I finally get on my way. She invites me to come back some other time, “zum Kaffee” (for coffee).

I am sad to say that I never took her up on the offer. Like so many times in life, I often thought about making a phone call to follow up. But then, I am always extremely busy, and something else always came up. As so often, I now deeply regret that time has run out.

The story of the Klimt pictures and Maria Altmann, the old lady who fought the Republic of Austria (and won), exploded into the global headlines. In the end, the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere released the paintings to Altmann. I was able to see them at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art before they were sold off.

Altmann told me (and others) that she sincerely wished and hoped that the pictures would be visible to the public, but sadly this is only partially the case today.

The most famous of the paintings, Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) is one of several portraits of Altmann’s aunt. It was acquired by Ronald S. Lauder for $135 million in 2006. It was the highest price paid for a painting to date. Adele Bloch-Bauer I is currently at Lauder’s Neue Galerie in Manhattan, but the other pictures have disappeared from public view.

My favorite image from the group is currently in a private collection:

Birkenwald/Buchenwald (Birch Forest/Beech Forest), 1903. By Gustav Klimt (Austrian, 1862-1918). Oil on canvas. 110 x 110 cm. Private Collection. Click to enlarge.

I wonder what Klimt would have thought of all this. He died in 1918. I admire his words: “If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few. To please many is bad.” You see, Klimt was quite a rebel in his days.

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Journalists Toll Of 2010

57 journalists killed (25% fewer than in 2009)
51 journalists kidnapped
535 journalists arrested
1374 physically attacked or threatened
504 media censored
127 journalists fled their country
152 bloggers and netizens arrested
52 physically attacked
62 countries affected by Internet censorship

Source: Reporters Sans Frontières – Journalists Without Borders

See the entire report here.
A PDF of the report is posted for download here.

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Hello. My name is Richard.

Last weekend, the PR people at the International Motorcycle Expo decided to rename me.

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