The Measure of a State

This is going to make me sound somewhat more libertarian than I actually am, but here goes: The most important duty of a state is its effective control over and responsible application of the monopoly on violence, delegated to it by its citizens, in the service of the protection of its citizens, and the protection of all people present within its territory. All the other trappings of statehood — a currency, a post office, universal healthcare, the name of your state on a placard at the UN General Assembly, some transportation infrastructure of some sort, passports, some stamps you can apply to passports issued by other states, a national Olympic team and/or Eurovision Song Contest entry (as appropriate), a flag — are nice to have, but not really essential.

An American Postbank

Over the past couple of days, this article has been brought to my attention from multiple angles. The basic idea — that the US Postal Service’s collapse and the problem of banking deserts in America’s poorer and more rural neighborhoods are two problems with a single solution — is an intriguing one. As an American emigrant customer of the Swiss post bank, it seems like a good idea, but I’m not sure the history of American and European financial services are similar enough to allow us to predict the success of the former from the latter.

The Impeachment of Barack Obama

Bear with me here for a minute, and this rant will get to the point. I was trying to explain the government shutdown to an Italian friend of mine last night (“so have you fixed the Silvio problem yet?” was my first-pass attempt to not talk about US politics before getting drunk enough to keep it from depressing me; I failed). I’ve come to realize that a successful overturn of the ACA by the petulant child wing of the Republican party would be an act of illegitimacy on the order of the appointment of George W. Bush as president by the Supreme Court in 2000.

Things I can’t explain to Europeans

I’ve learned, after something happens in America, to wait a few days, first for the inaccuracies inherent in the twenty-four-hour news cycle to be spun out, then for the inaccuracies introduced by the inevitable political spin to cancel each other out, then for the inaccuracies introduced both by textual and cultural translation into the German-language media to at least settle down to a consistent-if-subtly-incorrect picture of what, exactly, it was that just happened, before I try to discuss it here in Switzerland. This is different in America, I explain, or that in the English-speaking world, we don’t have a word for whatever, Prohibition this, Puritans that, let’s not even talk about how the Second World War began in 1941, and so on. I can’t explain this.

Four more years… in Switzerland

I’m not voting in the 2012 Presidential election. From a pure-fandom point of view I suppose you could say I’m for Obama, and I’ll probably raise a glass to his victory should it come, but in the end that wasn’t compelling enough to jump though all the various hoops necessary to get an absentee ballot as an emigrant American. And the only thing I’m sure I want four more years of is life in Switzerland.

Ten years on

On December 7, 1951, the New York Times – then as now as close to a paper of record as you’ll find in America – devoted a relatively limited amount of space to the tenth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy, which drew the United States into the Second World War: an editorial noting the occasion, and an article noting that a ceremony would be held in Pearl Harbor to note the occasion.


The tenor of the health-care slapfight (I’ll not dignify it with the word debate) in the United States of late is… well, frankly, embarrassing. Y’all are really making yourselves look bad. Death panels? Really? When a walking vapidity whose prime qualification for the job is that she can see Russia from her house gets up on the tee-vee and starts improvising science fiction so terrible that even L. Ron Hubbard wouldn’t stick his name on it, you do what the rest of us do, and you ignore it.

On Nationalism

On the door of my office, there are two of those little car-window flags hanging off the nameplate. One of them is Swiss, one is Italian, one for each of my officemates. They’re there for the European football championships, which appears to be the one context in which Europe allows itself to embrace nationalism anymore. This is probably a good thing, as Europe’s embrace of nationalism up to about sixty or so years ago tended to end up in the embrace of large amounts of territory gained and then invariably lost, always at terrible cost.