Thursday, 31 December 2009

2009 rewind (MMIX)

What a banner year!  H and I have done a lot, including getting a posh new apartment on the little river bank, went to Rome, career-development and returning to school (both as an alumnus and a new student), traveled to Washington DC and New York, getting a new car and many other fine fittings and adventures. 
Here are a few other world happenings, as best as I can recall, though I am prone to make stuff up and fill in my own details:

January:  Russia cuts off natural gas supplies to Europe through the Ukraine; Obama is inaugarated as US president; Iceland becomes the first national victim of the burgeoning financial crisis; Virgin Galactic is founded near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico; the Eagle Eye weapon nearly causes a worldwide technological black-out through an electromagnetic pulse; Ricardo Montalban and John Updike pass away.
February:  US and Russian spy satillites collide in orbit and dust Siberia with debris; Iceland, hobbled by bankrupcy, kicks out its old regime and elects a lesbian as chancellor; the financial crisis in the housing and automotive industries picks up tempo; Natasha Richardson dies after a skiing accident.
March:  The International Criminal Court in the Hague issues warrants for the genocide in Darfur; NASA lauches a space telescope to search for extra-solar planets; England and the US start quantitative easing to spur the economy.
April:  The UN introduces the World Digital Library; the swine-flu outbreak in Mexico prompts worldwide panic; stratetic arms reduction talks between the US and Russia fail; Bea Arthur and JG Ballard pass away.
May:  North Korea ratchets up its nuclear warhead program; Russia's once and future tsar becomes more and more assertive; it was revealed that Don Rumsfeld advised George Bush's Iraq-a-attacky-two with Biblical prophesy; a giant, angry Elizabeth Taylor attacks New York City, later to be known as Cloverfield 8; Dom DeLuise and Roh Moo-Hyun pass away.

June:  The WHO calls H1N1 pandemic and progress is monitored closely as nations compete for access to vaccine supplies; Greenland becomes more emancipated from the Kingdom of Denmark; Michael Jackson and Fara Fawcett and David Carradine pass away suddenly.
July:  The Uyghur uprising continues in China; the fragility of worldwide economy is exposed on several fronts; Swiss banking laws are made more transparent; Karl Malden and Walter Cronkite pass away.
August:  A typhoon devastates Taiwan; 2009 is a year of anniversaries, including the 60th of the founding of NATO and the 20th of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tienamen Square protest; Corazon Aquino and Eunice and Teddy Kennedy pass away.
September:  Members of the G-20 gather for a third time this year in Pittsburg to prevent a second financial collapse; Sarkosy announces he will not seek a second term as the job of the French president is fatiguing; Niel Bohr and Patrick Swayze pass away.
October:  ESA astronomers announce the discovery of many exo-planets, including two outstanding one's that fit the anthropomorphic, Goldie-Locks' criteria; Claude Levi-Strauss passes away.
November:  The CERN super-collider goes back online after failing to cause a rip in space and time; former PM Tony Blair is denied the first permanent seat as European Union president, with Merkel and Sarkosy opting for lesser luminaries; the Czech Republic joins the EU; the aspirations of Dubai were proved to be not viable, as the city-state asked to be forgiven its massive debts; NASA finds significant deposits of water on the Moon.
December:  The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is of uncertain success; Barack Obama accepts the Nobel Prize for Peace; "unstable" persons abush Silvio Berlusconi and the Pope; Obama is criticized for failing to protect America from the underpants bomber, while meanwhile Russia prepares to launch a rocket to destroy an asteroid which may come close to Earth in 2029; Kim Peek (the Rainman), Roy Disney and Brittany Murphy pass away.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

nackt


While I believe that it is far better and more dignified to submit one's self to a full body scan--the process, however, was not so effective for the Governator in Total Recall--rather than squirm in one's seat or soil one's self during the last hour of a flight or to curtail necessities in packing or divest one's self of carry-on items altogether, Europe's compliance with the scanners is disappointing.  It makes me think about those legendary office-parties where some drunk secretary makes a photocopy of her backside.  She was not worried about personal privacy and the image abused on the internet.  I wonder about these early-adopters for the full-body scans--at least they have the good sense to blame America and make measures only mandatory for flights there and not across the board.  This sort of escalation is no different than Putin's rebuttal to Obama that Russia needs more weapons to keep the US in check, so America cannot do whatever it wants.  One should be accountable if one makes itself a victim or a promising target.

snow patrol


The weather has been generally benevolent, gentle and seasonal, but a heavy, wet snow slogged down yesterday afternoon, snarling the light traffic of people still going to and from work.  I crawled through the hyperspace blizzard of snow flakes, listening to the news station on the radio.  Lo and behold, the traffic report announced an accident and snarl on the relatively peacable and incident-free stretch of Autobahn that I drive.  This was the first time I had heard my drive on the radio, and a part of me did not want to miss the accident and rubberneck--perhaps checking for timliness and accuracy, though I knew that I should avoid it if I was able to--after all, such warnings are issued so cars will steer clear of the scene.  H heard the report too and called immediately, to make sure I was OK.  I trudged on slowly, on the look-out.  When I didn't come across any evidence of an accident, I started to worry that perhaps this rare report of activity was a missive from the future, directed at me.  Mush, mush--the tedious work of plowing and skidding can engender strange thoughts.

Monday, 28 December 2009

you got chocolate in my peanut butter


In response to the two yuletide would-be airline disasters, Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing fame put together this wonderful posting.  Systematically, the reactionaries are just ruining the flight-experience, just like the bloated security software they liberally lather on our computers.  I guess that this underpants-bomber was not too concerned over maintaining a sensible safety-to-convenience ratio, just as the shoe-bomber and the mystery-liquid and great unknown bombers of Christmas Future were not thinking about the farce that they were about to set off.  Apparently now one cannot use the airplane toliet during the last hour of flight before decent starts.  Meanwhile, I imagine that the Italian air travel administration will have to fold to the status quo imposed by Ryan Air.  Italy was actually moving towards relaxing some of the more non-sensical measures and allowing passengers to board domestic flights with forms of identification like drivers' and hunting licenses.  Ryan Air, representing a large portion of the Italian in-country flights, however, does not like this move, since it will create more work for ticketing agents and put kinks in on-line check-ins.  I guess it's a good thing that the majority of Ryan Air flights last less than one hour (apparently, that last hour is golden time for mad-bombers) and plan to install pay toliets on their flights.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

tierekreis



Some weeks ago, at the kick off to the Christmas season, Saint Nickolaus brought us these great, giant zodiac mugs with our star signs.  I am not a strong adherent of astrology, but as with the curious describtors and biographies printed here, I am always wont to ask, how did they know.  Now if some wandering swami or other type of zodiacal pollster were to ask me what my favourite food is, I probably would not automatically respond "onions and garlic" like the mug says but I feel like that is probably more accurate than any spontaneous answer I would give, especially when H asks me what I want for dinner.  Scorpios generally get a bad reputation, astrologically speaking, and are characterized as cold, jealous and secretive, but that's probably pretty spot on as well.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

schnee und matsch or "cover your brake"


I am very happy that the storm of tee-tiny snow flakes that blanketed this area is dispersing to mush.  It amazes me that when the first heavy snowfall of the year comes around, drivers go into panic-mode, like they've never, ever driven in snow before and let driving rules of engagement slip.  People are less courteous and take more chances in hopes of inching forward, sloppy parking, tossing wet things on car upholstery, driving half-blind from unscraped windows or condensation.  I have done hasty things in the snow that I am not proud to admit to.  I think this new car is quite a little prima donna flashing its fancy complaint that tyre-pressure is too low, whereas I think that is a natural consequence of the laws of Gauss and thermodynamics.  A month ago, I had to take a class for winter driving safety.  I can see myself bumbling around in the mornings like these bundled up unfortuneates, and the video had a catchy admonition while driving in potentially dangerous situations: "Cover your brake."  One should always be prepared to stop well in advance of encroaching danger.  I informed H that road conditions were "amber" yesterday.  I could not say what exactly that meant, however--terrorists on the prowl on the Autobahn.  Always remember, cover your brake.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

laudable ennumerations


Even before the tree has had a chance to dry out and shed its needles or we have had a chance to plan for New Year's, the agents of recognition are out on the prowl, deciding what are the superlatives of this past year, and ten is the standard unit, even if it takes some reaching and duplication to come up with that many.  Top 10 movies, top 10 economic stories, top 10 memoriable moments, top 10 disasters, top 10 inventions--and the self-referential bunch, top 10 episodes, top 10 doctor's visits, tops, flops, and other sundries.  In some cases, they are even trying for the whole decade, not the roaring Aughts, but the ten-year span between 1999 and 2009.  It's nice to remember cultural currency but not when it's this fresh.  2010 must be an Aught too.

Friday, 18 December 2009

bread & circuses

Almost nightly, I drive past the big tent set up in the Festplatz and I am just astounded by the giant, illuminated hemispheres, hoops, that are part of the support structure for the big top.  I wonder if such things as circuses and carnivals were not exactly left behind in terms of applying technology and generating aesthetical wonderment.  A grubby old disco with a decent sound-system and DJ can be as good as any fancy, sleek establishment, but there are definitely more accessible lighting and pyrotechnic options and arcade effects.  I wonder what progress has been made in the three-ring-arena.  I have not been to a circus in ages, satisfied that they are only good for tragic headlines, wild beasts going amok, and scary clown nightmare fuel, but maybe now there is something more dazzling to see.  I am nearly tempted to go and see the lion-tamer perform on the equivalent of a LED dancefloor.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

netiquette or more cow bell


Sometimes I feel terrorized by directed and undirected chimes and ring-tones.  Every ubiquitous ping, ding and whistle, no matter what demanding electronic detritus it is attached to, comes in fast and intimate and nagging.  Are their established rules of form for when an SMS can be a substitute for an e-mail?  Is there a measure for urgency?  I feel quite old-fashioned sometimes, with my pay-as-you-go Handy with only a bald reserve of credit saved for a real emergency.  Cell phones, I think, are not for chatting or pillow-talk, unless there is no other viable alternative.  Waiting, sometimes, does not seem to be an option.  All the static and mystery, not immediately identifable or sourced, noises lose their meaning.  A calling-plan and perhaps a nicer Handy with an integrated touch-sensitive keyboard (and demonstrating a more expert range of sound-effects) for expediting dispatches might lend a sense of importance to my mental notes.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

psychology of superstition


Alternet, which regularly posts some pretty engrossing articles, has a recent one by Anneli Rufus on the fadism surrounding conspiracy theories and belief in super-secret societies.  The argument that in times of crisis, people turn to the occult as a solace and an opiate.  While perhaps people are prone to abstract their problems onto a malevolent or benevolent overlord and search for blame or excuses, I do not think that is the whole story.  Paranormal facination has its following, more or less mainstreamed, year in and year out, and world governments, rife with error and missed-opportunities, do not exactly convey the united front that the true-believers are expecting.  If anything, a quagmire of conspiracies is rather disappointing.  Under a perfect regime, all the conspiracy theorists would have been rounded up and disappeared long ago for knowing what they know.  Obviously, that has not happened yet.  If anything, all the theater is masterful distraction, choreography, so one won't pay attention to the man behind the curtain, but I am not sure what other moves are orchestrated.  Belief in whatever mythology has traces of motivation in it; being able to discriminate among the talismen and charms might lead to the top.

Monday, 14 December 2009

a mark, a yen, a buck or a pound

The Guardian last week published a facinating article that details UN findings that financial watchdogs, at the height of the economic apocalypse, were exceedingly lax about discriminating between laundering and legitimate business operations (perhaps there is no day-light twixt the twain as it is).  This roughly one-third of a trillion dollars circulating in the international banking system for the past few months from the drug and weapons trade probably kept world markets from total collapse.  This turning a blind eye to things below board is another insult and demonstrates the poor planning on behalf of governments in liberally tossing out those stimulus funds to businesses too big to fail.  Perhaps the public should let the syndicate churn out swine-flu vaccine or execute a manned-mission to Mars, if they are not doing so already.  Above is an image of the corn field in the middle of Liechtenstein.  It seems quite strange to me that a country whose flat land is at such a premium, the biggest open space would be for this purpose.  I am convinced that this is where things go when they are disappeared, like with the little boy from the Twilight Zone who could send people "to the cornfield."  Maybe the stimulus funds are stashed in Vaduz.

Friday, 11 December 2009

past-perfect

Flickr artists Rétrofuturs (Hulk4598 and Stéphane Massa-Bidal) showcase their visions of websites in vintage paperback form.  Apparently one can purchase poster-sized prints.  I think these are great--it reminds me of illustrated literature that one finds in clinic waiting rooms, sort of the tortured stick figures that get every kind of social disease.  I think everything looks classier and truer in this format. 

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

hogan's heroes

Over the weekend, H and I visited the village of Colditz with its imposing castle.  During the war, it was used to house incorigible allied prisoners of war, since thinking the fortess impenetrable, those who had successfully escaped from other prisons could be kept secure and isolated.  Due to the nature of the prisoners with their established histories of escape, this place had one of the highest records of flight of any jail.  H told me a lot of the history about the village, but it's strange to think of such a monolithic place as this not really being known in its own right.  With tourism, the castle and the camp became sort of a parody of itself, a mash-up of a dozen different mythical places and intrigues.  Sometimes these places need to be rediscovered, and then can be awe-inspiring in their own rights.

Monday, 7 December 2009

must see t.v. or proud as a peacock


An article highlighted a rather disturbing coincidence concerning the aquisition of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) by cable conglomerate Comcast.  The merger still needs Congressional approval before proceding, and given Obama's professed stance on the laxity of others in enforcing the break up of monopolies and cartels, one might expect that the deal would fall through--especially considering such a large stake of US media outlets is covered by a single umbrella.  NBC reporting, however, has just come out in favour of the Democrats' health care platform.  Is policy determined that way?  Do law makers consider how to get in on this or that action before giving this giant buffer to freedom of the press their blessings?  Would the new mouthpiece that the government pwn'd, state-owned media, be effective in blathering only what's favourable about their health care plans?

wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

To greet delegates as they arrive at the airport for the climate summit, which gets underway Monday, Greenpeace has hung a series of posters of world leaders, electronically aged eleven years, apologizing for not affecting real change to protect and preserve the environment when they had the chance.  Old Meta-Obama looks wizened and sad.  Some 140 private jets will be decending on the capital's airport (though unable to park on the tarmac during the conference due to lack of space, will wait to pick up their charges at Finnish run-ways) and a fleet of 1200 limousines will clog the streets.  I can't believe the wake of bureaucracy and minding that conferences such as these pull.

Friday, 4 December 2009

did we drink the kool-aid?


I hope have not grown overly cynical, but I have to wonder if Obama has delivered or if it's too soon to judge, obstacles of the old guard still in place.  But the new boss is looking a lot like the old boss, in terms of policy and promises.  Especially after seeing the hollow performance from the other night on sending more US troops to Afghanistan and bullying the European Bloc into committing more, I feel sorely disappointed.  I wonder if it was not all a cruel hoax, and that the media darling isn't just another tool of the international banking conspiracy.  I feel cheated.  I don't want to be duped, nor do I want his supporters, hopeful and weary, to feel that their confidence was misplaced.  Scarier things are brewing too.  I think the world is more comfortable with the idea of a New World Order, a world super government, since the launch of the European Union.  It's still quaint and Old World after all, and the French are still the French and the Germans are still the Germans, and there's even room for quirks like the Holy See or princely Lichtenstein.  Maybe people think that's what the corporate overlords have planned for them. 

Thursday, 3 December 2009

frenzy

I am terrible when it comes to shopping, absolutely incorrigible, and in the end never feel satisfied with the whole gift giving process.  It's completely out of bounds, but I feel a bit resentful when it seems to come so easily for some people.  I think I am more creative when I feel pressed for time, but instead, I'll nurse some guilt over not pacing myself and going about things methodically.  I like this poster for a local holiday bazaar--it looks like a virus on a Fruitopia calidescope.  Meanwhile, I have a meeting to attend on how to have (effective) meetings...

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

iconoclasts


These pilfered emails and documents that supposedly throw the ideas of anthropologic climate change and global warming out with the bath water really incite strong argument, especially ahead of the Copenhagen summit.  It seems to me to have heavy religious overtones, like Martin Luther nailing his ninety-five theses to the cathedral door, like a split between Catholicism and the Evangelics.  The climate-sceptics would underestimate and belittle the hand of man when it comes to screwing things up.  The adherents would cast aspersions on any pall of doubt in that regard.  Regardless of the truthiness to either side, I cannot see the harm in wanting to preserve habitat and fossil fuels for coming generations.  I'd no more want to have to visit a museum to see trees than to see Republicans or pandas.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

hadj-podge and Swiss Miss

Sunday, against the advice of its government and the governments of the European Union, Swiss voters lent their support for a ban on the building of new minarets.  Now there are four mosques to compete with church steeples, but apparently no more.  I don't know what this move says about the constituency, but I understand that the intent of the passage was not to promote religious discrimination but to counter it, since some would argue that Islam has institutionalized gender inequalities, which go against Swiss law.  Elsewhere, there is controversy over head scarves in France and plans to build Europe's largest mosque in Koln, next to one of the largest cathedrals.  What I think is most interesting about this vote, however, is the attention given to the fact that Switzerland is bucking the recommendations of others.  I remember the fact that before 1918, not so long ago, the only democracies in Europe were France, Switzerland and tiny San Marino.  Every place else was a monarchy.