31 July 2011


Happy 720th birthday Switzerland!

My, my, you've come a long way. What have you learned in your 720 years? How is the Switzerland today different from the Switzerland of yore? Well, as the old saying goes, you can tell a lot about a country by reading their dress code manuals. The following was taken from the July 2011 issue of Harper's Magazine.

(From a forty-three-page dress code given to employees of Swiss bank UBS last year. Translated from the French by Anthony Lydgate.)

In general, a blouse is worn with a jacket. When it gets very hot and you have received approval from your immediate superior, you many wear just a blouse with pants or skirt.

The scarf must always be folded and tied with the knot oriented not down but, as much as possible, up and to the left.

Under no circumstances should the point of your tie enter your pants.

To improve your comfort, you may use "Party-Feet" silicone inserts, for example when you walk on hard surfaces.

Allow your shoes a respite equivalent to twice the time of their use.

The wearing of ultra-trendy glasses is not allowed. Also see to it that your jewelry matches the metallic color of your frames.

A man who wears a watch conveys reliability and a great concern for punctuality.

Light day makeup composed of foundation, mascara, and discreet lipstick goes well with the dress code and will highlight your personality.

The skin being our primary item of clothing, we recommend that you protect it by applying a nourishing, soothing cream.

Never massage an area where you have applied perfume, as this can destroy its molecules.

Studies have shown that a stylish, immaculate haircut considerably raises individuals' likeability.

Every little hair that grows on the body has a function. The eyebrows protect the eyes from sweat and the eyelashes keep out dust and little insects. Stray facial hairs, however, upset one's overall look and ought to be avoided.

Never wear shoes that are too small for you: there's nothing worse than a pinched smile.

Apparently, UBS CEO Oswald J. Grübel didn't read the manifesto. Maybe the UBS employees could pool some funds and buy Oz a larger pair of shoes.

To observe a country through their dress codes, though, is possibly too limited. I mean, not everyone in Switzerland is a banker, some are even lawyers, and you haven't seen racy until you've stepped into a Swiss courtroom. Maybe we need to widen our scope and look at the politics that run the country. Then we'll have a better idea of the current state of the nation.

The increasingly popular Swiss People's Party (SVP in German, or UDC in French) issued the following internet ad campaign late last year.

The ad is offensive on several levels but let's stick to the intended message: In 2010, Lake Zürich (Zürisee) is clean and pure and encourages white-skinned women with many different hair colors to rub their butts on its shore before standing hand in hand and wading into its water. If mass immigration isn't stopped, and I mean, like, today, in twenty years time Lake Zürich will transform into a filthy bathtub for countless overweight,
Muslim, gypsy (Roma), and North African women.

An official political party only since 1971, the SVP's roots dig back to the early 1930s when it sought to represent farmers and other rural Swiss citizens. Until the 1990s (Wait, when was the war in the Balkans that produced the Yugoslav diaspora?) the party maintained a modest popularity percentage and minimal political influence. With the help of billionaire Christoph Blocher, the SVP is now the most powerful political party in the country, owning some 58 out of 200 seats in the National Assembly.

These days, besides giving the finger to the EU and trying to repeal the Schengen Agreement, the SVP builds higher and higher mountains (read: walls) around Swiss borders. Publicly, this takes the form of political posters that frighten, intimidate, and forebode the future of Switzerland if it continues to allow, among other things, loose immigration standards.

Examples include the fuzzy white sheep kicking out fuzzy black sheep:

Then there are evil black ravens that peck away and abuse the country (notice the Clear Channel company tag at the top of the billboard):

Next we have several beige to black hands freely grabbing highly desired and extremely difficult to obtain red Swiss passports out of a box:

Will Ivan the rapist soon be Swiss?

And the granddaddy of them all, the one that helped influence the 57% vote to ban the construction of new minarets:

On this last poster it's important to keep in mind that while Switzerland is home to about 400,000 Muslims, about the same number as in New Jersey but with a land mass of about twice the size, there is a grand total of four minarets. Four, and there will be no more.

Tricky times for a country as old as the hills. Problem is, for a country that would like to see itself as clear and clean as the water in Lake Zürich, that would like to convey "reliability and a great concern for punctuality," Switzerland is far from homogenous. With four official languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh) and an infinite number of dialects, diversity has been implicit from the very beginning.

Switzerland claims the highest portion of permanent
foreign residents in Europe (22%), two-thirds of whom come from other European countries. Islam accounts for the largest religious minority which is roughly one-twentieth of the total population. If ethnicity, language, and religious beliefs form the core of a unified country then Switzerland is less a nation in the geographical sense than a collection of citizens with similar values and assumptions living within a vaguely demarcated land area. Probably, the shrewd Schweizer would say just that: Yes! That is exactly what we are fighting for: Swiss values!

What, exactly, are Swiss values?

Back in 1291, members of three tribes from what are now the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden met at the Rütli meadow and signed an oath of confederacy that eventually became what is known as the Old Swiss Confederacy. When the Federal Charter was created, I can't imagine the citizens had much in common with each other apart from their beards, love of all things lactic, and fear of Tyrannosaurus rex or whatever else hunted them. And in 2011, besides one of the strongest currencies in the world, what does an Italo-Romansh speaker in mountainous Ticino have in common with a Swiss-German speaker in agricultural Schaffhausen? The same love of dairy products? Definitely. A nice pension plan? Yep. The feeling of being surrounded by an increasingly hostile and out of control European Union? Loneliness?

According to a SVP flyer that appeared in the mailbox recently, what all Swiss citizens have in common at the moment is a problem with mass immigration. According to the flyer:

Nous avons néanmoins perdu notre autodétermination dans un domaine important: la Suisse a abandonné progressivement au fil des années passées le contrôle de l’immigration des étrangères et étrangers. Nous voyons et ressentons tous les jours les effets de ce développement: routes bouchées et transports publics bondés, difficulté croissante de trouver un logement et, partant, prix excessifs des loyers. Nombre de Suissesses et de Suisses ne peuvent plus payer des locations aussi élevées. La concurrence sur le marché du travail est de plus en plus rude. Les immigrants en provenance de l’UE évincent dans plusieurs branches les ressortissants d’Etats tiers qui tombent ensuite à la charge de notre système social. La criminalité étrangère et les abus dans le droit d’asile font partie du quotidien.

A rough translation tells us that Switzerland has lost its self-determination in one important area: the Swiss have gradually abandoned immigration control of foreigners and strangers. Every day, Switzerland sees and feels the effects of this predicament: clogged roads and crowded public transport, increased difficulty finding housing and, thus, excessive rents. Swiss citizens can no longer afford such high rents. Competition in the labor market is increasingly fierce. Immigrants from several areas in the EU displace third-country nationals who then become expenses of the social system. Foreign crime and abuse are part of everyday life. End of rough translation.

The story goes that the mountain people from Uri,
Schwyz, and Unterwalden joined forces part and parcel to protect themselves from the Habsburgs running rampant through the countryside. In a sense, they formed their pact out of fear. Fear of being trounced by someone else and assimilated into something not within their own control. Today, the Swiss are asked once again to join forces in order to stop an outbreak of immigrants with, apparently, values much different than those of the multi-lingual, multi-ethnic nationals. Are the European Union and others not so unionized the Habsburgs of today? Is fear, then, the foundation of the Swiss value system?

If you were to summarize the messages in the series of political posters created by the Swiss People's Party which, of course, is the point of political posters--to pique or alarm the value system of the onlooker--then you might come up with a collection that includes the aforementioned categories of religious beliefs, ethnicity, language, and crime.

What a Swiss citizen wants, perhaps, is a country of Swiss people, a country of white things (either women or sheep), with no more than a few official languages, and maybe one or two religious preferences. You know, the way Switzerland used to be. In addition, there should not be people in Switzerland who commit crimes--crimes of abuse, theft, rape, or violence of any kind.

Those are fairly straightforward values, aren't they? And, you have to admit, if you're going to deal with criminals--and in one way or another we all deal with criminals--you might as well make some decent money off them. Why bother with petty gypsy pickpockets when Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali are part of your client base? Okay, conceivably a caveat of the Swiss value system is that they are free to pick and choose what value system they would like to value.

In the end, maybe it does come down to dress codes and the way others perceive the Swiss in public. Look good, stay fit, keep your tie out of your pants, match your jewelry with your metallic glasses, and the world won't notice the ripples you make as you wade into that chilly, glacial lake of your ancestors. Out with the burka, in with “Party-Feet”! Out with your minarets, but your bank accounts lend a sophisticated green hue to the pastoral landscapes.

Ripples. Never, never let them see your ripples. Repeat this mantra and there is no doubt that when it comes to raising the likeability of individuals, four sandy bums beat one Ivan the rapist every time.

Then again:

Happy birthday, Switzerland, may you quietly pass the world by for another 720 years. But watch out for that black boot behind you.

Oswald J. Grübel
Swiss population statistics
All political poster photos came either from the SVP website or other news affiliations.

20 July 2011

The Black Gold of the Sun

Side A

William DeVaughn: Be Thankful for What You Got
Be Thankful for What You Got, 1974

War: Don't Let No One Get You Down
Why Can't We Be Friends?, 1975

Sergio Mendes & Brasil '77: After Sunrise
Primal Roots, 1972

Sambalanço Trio: Reza
Improviso Negro, 1965

Lucio Battisti: Anima Latina
Anima Latina, 1974

Billy Stewart: Summertime
One More Time: The Chess Years, 1966

David Axelrod: Holy Thursday
Song of Innocence, 1969

Rotary Connection: I Am the Black Gold of the Sun
Hey Love, 1971

Side B

Love: You Set the Scene
Forever Changes, 1967

The Zombies: Hung Up On a Dream
Odessey & Oracle, 1968

The Electric Prunes: General Confessional
Release of an Oath, 1968

Up 'n Adam: Rainmaker
Mind Expanders, Vol. 3, 1969

Jack Nitzsche: The Lonely Surfer
The Lonely Surfer, 1963

The Sandals: Theme from the Endless Summer
The Endless Summer OST, 1966

The Beach Boys: Surf's Up
Surf's Up, 1971

Taxi: Campari Soda
Campari Soda single, 1977

Love Unlimited Orchestra: Welcome Aboard [12" version]
CBS 12" Promo, 1981