Is there snow on Mars?

Good morning. As it’s snowing hard at 600 metres (2000 feet) here in Switzerland and I can’t even see Lake Geneva from the window anymore, I’ve decided to stay home by a nice warm log fire and write. I’d been planning to ski this weekend but the weather forecast is pretty bad and a quick check of the resort webcams has shown me what I feared; visibility is poor, almost a whiteout, and venturing onto the slopes will be hazardous.

So I’ll stay home instead and write a review I’ve been meaning to do for some time, a review of a movie I saw recently, ‘The Martian’, by one of my favorite directors, Sir Ridley Scott, based on the best-selling book by Andy Weir.

And what a refreshing experience it was to watch this movie. Why refreshing? For several reasons.

First off, ‘The Martian’ is one of the rare movies I’ve watched/studied recently that has no villain. At least no human villain. Nor an alien villain. If there’s a villain at all, it’s Nature, the human-hostile environment of the dusty wastes of Mars, the vastness of the solar system and the universe outside it, the emptiness. In stranded astronaut Mark Watney’s unenviable situation, Time itself has become a villain. We watch it flow inexorably past, every day (or Sol as they call it in the movie) Watney counts off a reminder of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous ticking bomb. Will Mark run out of the potatoes that are his only remaining food supply before NASA’s desperate rescue attempt reaches him? Will he succumb to radiation sickness? Will his water-making experiments with explosive hydrogen envelope him in a ball of fire? Will he lose concentration and forget one time to put on his helmet before he enters the airlock? Author Andy Weir has shown us it’s possible to create a story without human villains. There’s no Dick Dastardly attempting to sabotage the rescue, no wicked Queen out for revenge because Matt Damon is better looking than her. Features that most movies (and stories) in the 21st century appear to need. A story that’s successful without bringing human conflict into the mix is a precious gem indeed.

Secondly, one of the main themes of ‘The Martian’ is hope. Nobody gives up. Nobody. Not Mark, not the people who left him behind, not the NASA scientists and leadership, not the potatoes (who have a tough time growing in Martian soil, I can assure you).

Thirdly, it’s clearly demonstrated in Andy Weir’s masterpiece that cooperation between people on our little planet Earth works. The spaceship crew is multinational, the community of scientists racing to find a solution is multinational (check out the character names: Vincent Kapoor, Mindy Park, Guo Ming (Ming the Merciless, anyone? Uh-uh), Sean Bean etc etc). Everyone works together and the result is a resounding triumph. Hey world, could we try that ourselves please? Soon?

And fourthly, ‘The Martian’ is funny. Mark Watney keeps his sense of humor all the way through, even on the numerous occasions when he’s staring Death in the face.

So there you have them, four excellent reasons why we (and our children) should watch ‘The Martian’ right now. In fact, I think I will.

ps This is in fact one of the few movies/tv shows starring Sean Bean in which he doesn’t die.

Benoit Violier’s death big news in Switzerland

This morning the Swiss media’s focus is on the death, Sunday, of ‘World’s Best Chef’ Benoit Violier, who was found shot at his home. In the newspaper I read whilst enjoying my morning coffee, eight pages are devoted to the Frenchman, who ran the Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville in Crissier near Lausanne, where the quick lunch menu will set you back almost 200 U.S. dollars. The restaurant has decided to carry on without their deceased leader. “It’s what he would have wanted,” said one of the management.

In other Swiss news, peace talks are again underway in Geneva to try to end the civil war in Syria, and end the suffering of millions of civilians in besieged and starving towns such as Madaya.


Ever ready Swiss

Barely a week after the Swiss nation votes to restrict the number of foreigners permitted to penetrate their borders, it appears some people are resorting to desperate measures to gain entry to the country of their dreams. Take for example 31-year-old airline pilot Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn from Ethiopa who early Sunday morning hijacked the Boeing 767-300 aircraft he was co-piloting from Addis Abbaba to Rome and diverted it to Geneva, intending to ask for political asylum. Apparently, when Tegegn first contacted the Swiss authorities they did not believe he had commandeered the plane. When he flew past Mont Blanc however the Swiss finally took some notice, but informed the hijacker that he would have to wait until Geneva airport opened at six am and could he just fly around the Alps a bit until the staff arrived.

This incident would appear to add weight to the argument that the best tactic for attacking the Helvetic Confederation is to come under cover of darkness, at a weekend, preferably on a Sunday while all the natives are in bed or out on the pistes. I personally have observed that most of the conscripts that make up the Swiss Army are on one or other of the many railway trains that ply up and down this country on Sunday evenings, mostly armed with bottles of beer. Either that or you should plan to invade on Monday morning around seven am. At seven am most hygiene-conscious Swiss are under their morning shower, it being forbidden to wash there earlier in case you wake the neighbors with your yodelling.

Editor’s note. A Swiss Air Force spokesman explained that fighter jets were not scrambled in response to the hijacking as ‘Swiss military airbases are closed at night and on weekends’. Source Al-Jazeera


‘Disneyland for Hookers’ opens in Zurich

Switzerland, where I have been a guest worker for the past three years, never ceases to amaze me. Now we have a sex trade theme park (source: BBC).

Switzerland votes overwhelmingly to tighten asylum law

So, the Swiss don’t want any more economic refugees in their country, but they don’t mind that the super-rich that live here continue to get away with paying low taxes.

Read the full report here at Deutsche Welle.