Thursday, 30 September 2010

little dorrit

Trying to map out the logistics but not totally plan it to death of our next adventure, I realized what a challenge it is to puzzle out a comprehensive and fluid travel guide.  I had thought it would be handy to be able to generate something that was both brief and comprehensive enough to winnow away from bulkier travel books something that was targeted to the area one is visiting, with some needful pointers for orientation.  In the process, I also learned how rich in sights and activities this one area was and never mind if we cannot go further afield. I tried to cobble together something for us--mostly taken from Wikipedia, adapted to our needs and time constraints.  For what it's worth, I though I could share this framework, this flowchart.

Stepwise: Western Ireland

Arrival & orientation: Dublin [Ir., Baile Átha Cliath] Airport (10km north of Dublin City in Finegal [Ir. Fine Gall – Foreign Tribe]) is one of only two European airports where pre-clearance to the USA is possible, the other being Shannon, and is the headquarters of Ryanair and Aer Lingus. Construction for this airport began in 1936, and a second terminal is scheduled to open in November 2010. From the airport to points west, take the M1 to the M50 (13km) to the N4 exit towards Baile (7km) and continue (44km) on the M4. Next take the exit M6 for Galway and Athlone (57km).

At Athlone, either continue on the N6 (3.5 hours) of take the M6 north and bypassing Galway (4 hours), passing through Roscommon, Claremorris, Castlebar and Westport, on toward Connemara. Athlone, at the junction, bridges the River Shannon and is a historic crossroads. The route from Dublin passes through the downtown areas of several towns and villages along the way. From either route, after Westport or Galway, Clifden and Leenane are the only major villages on the peninsula (Route N590). The journey is about 280km in total, and there are tolls of about 4€, payable in cash only.

Leenane [ Leenaun, An Líonán – the filling pool, das Teig] is considered to be the “gateway to the Connemara” and is at the mouth of the Killary Habor. It is the crossroads of trails into the Maam Valley, Clifden and Westport, and hikers have access to Mweelrea, Sheefry, Paltry and Maumturk Mountains. The harbor is bounded by a high fjord that extends for 16km westward. “The Field” was filmed here and the Kelly Family recorded an album here. One can mingle with the local fisherman and sheep farmers in An Carraig, Gaynors or Hamiltons pubs.

Maam [The Pass] is a village in an ancient wood in the shadow of the Maamturk Mountains with their numerous pre-historic and early historic sites. The Western Way, a long distance walking trail runs from the southern end of the Maam Valley to the ancient site of Mámean. On the way there is 'Leaba Pháiric' [Patrick's bed], a rock recess and 'Tobar Pháraic' [Patrick's well] mark places of pilgrimage. The well is believed to cure cattle as well as human ills. The town is the filming location for the “Quiet Man” starring John Wayne in 1952. The nearby market has centuries old traditions, including a harvest festival in October.

Kilfenora – Southern edge of the Burren, has a decorated high cross. The Burren has over 90 portal dolmen and ringed forts (Dun) like Cahercommaun on the edge of an inland cliff, and the well-preserved Caherconnell Stone Fort. Corcomroe Abbey ruins (by Ballyvaughan) is one of the area's main attractions. There are no bogs and few pastures, making the landscape unique, and instead there are huge slabs of limestone called 'clints' with fissures called 'grikes'.
Most of the drainage is underground caves, but unless one is an experienced spelunker they are not recommended, as they become flooded rivers in times of rain. Explore The Burren underworld in comfort within the developed cave at Aillwee, near Ballyvaughan.

Man has settled here since the stone-age. Evidence of his habitations and tombs are all around; massive dolmens, tombs and stone forts called cahers, (the homesteads of farmers of long ago), survive in various stages of preservation. Churches and castles indicate later periods of settlement.

The Burren is also famous for its plantlife. Foxgloves and rock roses grow here and rock's microclimates also support plants found in the Artic, Alpine and Mediterranean regions. Botanists have been unable to give a comprehensive answer to this. Many of the views around The Burren are truly spectacular: Corkscrew Hill and its view across Galway Bay or the journey around Black Head or the view from Ballinalacken Hill across to the Aran Islands.
Clifden [An clochán – bee-hive cell] – with Clifden Sky Road with castle ruins, Kylemore Abbey is at the edge of the Connemara with access to several islands and the mountain ranges of the area. Kylemore, [Coill Mor – the Big Wood] dominates the valley with its magnificent architecture and gardens, especially the Victorian Walled Garden. Today it is a convent run by Benedictine nuns, but the woman for whom the castle is built is entombed in the neighboring church, like Lenin. Oughterard with its tower ruins is also on the Clifden Sky Road. Marconi’s wireless station here was the first to transmit a radio signal across the Atlantic.

Liscannor [Lios Ceannúir – Ringfort of Ceannúr] seaside village 3 km from the Cliffs of Moher between Doolin and Lahinch, with castle ruins, cemetery, St. Brigid’s well and rich local folklore. The Cliffs are 8 km long and 214 m high. The tower at the cliffs was built by Cornelius O'Brien, a descendant of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland. From here one can easily view the cliffs, the Aran Islands, and Galway Bay as well as the Twelve Bens and the Maum Turk mountains to the north in Connemara and Loop Head to the south. The submarine was invented here.

Galway [Gaillimh - stony] is the third largest city in Ireland and has many areas of interest: Lynch’s Castle on Shop Street (medieval town house), St Nicolas Church (built in 1320), and the Spanish Arch with its Long Walk along the harbor or wander along the quays through Claddagh promenade at Salthill. For dining, Oscar’s and Abalone’s on Derrick Street in the town center come highly recommended, and there is a 24 hour Tesco on Headford Road.

Other villages in County Galway to visit are Kinvara [Cinn Mhara – Head of the Sea] at the southern end of Galway Bay with Dunguaire Castle and Claregalway with its abbey and Burgo Castle ruins.

Rossaveal [Ros an Mhil – peninsula of the sea monster] ferries to Aran Islands (departs 10:30 and return 17:00 or Doolin Pier at 9:00). Inishmor has the most attractions. There are mini-bus tours and taxis available on the islands. These are reasonably priced and usually come with a local guide with experience on the island going back generations. Tours can be arranged with the ferry companies. Another way to see the islands is on foot or by bike. Be aware there are very rough and jagged rocks. While touristy nature of the pony carts waiting in Cill Rónáin may be off-putting, paying the little bit extra for one of these is often worth it for the history lesson or an invitation to a party.

Consider walking the islands to see the sights, time permitting. It is easy to walk on the roads between sights and one is more likely to really begin to understand the scale of the islands and the feel of the place. But, keep in mind, it is best to plan to be back before dark as the roads are not lit and ferries do not run at all hours.

Dun Aengus is a fort situated on the edge of a cliff at a height of 100 meters overlooking the Atlantic on the Aran Islands, Inishmore. It consists of a series of concentric circular walls, the innermost; the citadel encloses an area approximately 50 m in diameter with 4 m thick walls of stone. These walls have been rebuilt to a height of 6 m and have wall walks, chambers, and flights of stairs too.

O'Brien's Castle on Inis Oírr in the Aran Islands was built in the 14th century. The castle was taken from the O'Briens by the O'Flaherty clan of Connemara in 1582. Additionally, Dun Eochla and Dun Eoghanachta are ringforts located on the interior of the island, visible from the main road. Clochan na Carraige is a beehive hut, perfectly preserved and unaltered. The structure is unusual because the outside is circular but inside it is rectangular.

there's water at the bottom of the ocean or someone has been lying in my bed

Just a few short months ago, the Kepler satellite opened its eyes on a postage stamp sized area of the heavens and nearly instantaneously seven hundred candidate planets popped into view. A parallel European Space Agency project was also hunting for stars possibly harboring planets using an alternate method of measuring slight gravitational perturbations caused by an orbiting body, as compared to Kepler's gauging the twinkling that happens when a planet partially eclipses its host star. Discoveries, I think, will be exploding like firecrackers from here on out. This excitement relegates mundane worries like the economy and manic power-grabs to the domain of petty Astronomers are planning to reexamine candidate sites to see if alien oceans or atmospheres can be detected by looking for glints of sunshine, like off of sunsets at the beach. There was no chance to test that method, however, before Gliese 581 g, as Reuters reports, was discovered slinking about the so-called habitable, Goldie Locks zone of a star some twenty light years away. It is a bit chauvinistic to think only life as earthlings know it is out there, but hoping that life, in all its creativity and super-abundance, might at least be familiar on a chemical level is comforting. The exo-planet in the constellation Libra has been unofficially called "Zarmina" after co-discoverer Steven Vogt's wife, and I think that's a perfectly spacey name for it.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

the other shoe or mit schmähungen

Though obscured by wiry, frantic reports of a pandering and vacuous variety of that in no certain terms a terror-plot, kicking it Bombay style, may happen some where in Europe or America, or not--it sounds as if the Grand Poobahs at the Department of Homeland Security have been honing their vagaries by reading their Nostradamus, the Associate Press, via the Huffington Post, had an important dispatch.  A special court has been invoked in order to seek to prosecute Iceland's ex-prime minister for dereliction of duty when it came to minding the country's treasure.  The former government certainly had a role in the financial collapse and resulting ripples and though it could be agreed that the people's greed was on par with any duping or unscrupulous conduct and had their come-uppance by being summarily voted out, or that the charges will never stick or make up for squandered funds.  It is important, however, symbolically that a responsible individual does not escape punishment or is even rewarded for bad behaviour, because the perception and reality is that current and former leaders are immune from justice and summonses, whether from a kook wanting to sue the Queen or legitimately from the International War Crimes Tribunal, are toothless and too timid.  It is too bad the breaking news palette was too full to follow these develops--besides, the old terror bug-a-boo would be overcome, in Europe at least, by all the threats of transportation strikes.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


My parents are treating their house guests with a road trip to the Czech Republic with a posh stay in Prague. They took off this morning, and in a pretty nifty coincidence, it is the country's national holiday, St. Wenceslaus Day. I am excited for their travels and hope they're having a lot of fun, and it's definitely time for us too to re-visit that area.


Salon contributor Glenn Greenwald has a very important analysis of the US government's petition for internet omnipresence, drawing dangerous and uncomfortable parallels to totalitarian regimes in the Mid-East and China. Of course, this has repercussions that mean spillage far beyond US borders and for US citizens of interest. Internet utilities, the load-bearing beams of the architecture, like bookFace and voice-over-IP services, which have been conveniently embraced by the American government and military to enhance recursive meetings about meetings, will put the activities and opinions of people world-wide squarely in the hands of American benevolence. If one is not careful, nothing will be private or temporary any longer with archives made enduring, and neither will the flavor of the month, popularity be without a heavy yoke.

Monday, 27 September 2010

bartleby the scrivener

I wonder if the State of Texas has levied a cease-and-desist order against the Republic of Chile for flag besmirchment. It is surely causing public confusion, what with all the attention to those trapped miners and that girl who fell down a well near Odessa, Texas back in the eighties that launched this breed of car-chase, tragically unfolding journalism. Maybe like the virtual office assistants or automated, frequently-asked-question regurgitators, there should be a pop-up solicitor, like the Great Gazoo, that gives warning that an image may be subject to copyright,
this video is no longer available in your country due to an agreement with some big recording label, litigation is in process or ownership is pending, or whether one's latest offering stands up to the rigours of ethical business practices. Maybe by making legal advice, whether asked for or not, into a hovering, cartoon attorney would make people less ligitious overall, since it would become something ignored or batted away like aggressive advertisements or End-User License Agreements (EULA).

Sunday, 26 September 2010

fundgrube oder jurassic auto park

Because of the lapse in the rainy weather, H and I venture out and took a long drive to a truck-stop fleamarket.  We found a heavy, old bronze plaque of a fish.  Right away, it made me think of the archaeopteryx or that fish everyone thought was extinct since millions of years until one turned up in a fishing net.
This bronze is an impression of a rather famous fossil, too, however, a kind of catfish that existed during the jurassic era.  Afterwards, we toured the nearby town of Werneck, known for its baroque castle. 
The sprawling complex hosts a hospital and psychiatric clinic, and I had always guessed that grounds were off limits to the casual visitor, but this was not the case.  This imposing and functional monument is another homage in the area to Balthasar Neumann whose grand embellishments and engineering innovations defined baroque architecture are found in building elements throughout Franconia.

Saturday, 25 September 2010


A relatively novel and sophisticated, complex enough to suggest the monetary backing and support of a state-financier, computer virus some suggest (auch auf deutsch) may be the first volley of a new cyber war. While I believe that this may be local retribution for the death sentence of an Iranian blogger in absentia whose punishment may be transferred to his father, because the bulk of infections have been visited on industrial control systems, vulnerable to infiltration, in Iran, many think it may be a collaborative effort between the Mossad of Israel and the United States to either gather intelligence or outright sabotage Iranian nuclear facilities. This is a dangerous move, especially since it could propagate out of control and invite reprisals.
Rather than dampen Iran’s efforts--maybe experimenting in this sandbox is just a distraction for something else, however, I believe a bigger target of opportunity for these or any nation, because of the nature of the Stuxnet virus which can obscure the safety parameters of an industry system and fool operators into thinking that the system is running normally when in reality its overheated or running on empty, would be the antique and clunky relays of the New York stock exchange to clandestinely inflate trading and sustain confidence or else plunge it into panicked selling. World stock markets are probably the single most influential and easily accessible industrial control systems out there and much of the swings in trading are adjudicated by the reflexes of machines.

Friday, 24 September 2010

wayback machine: einheit und ostalgia

The reunification process of East- and West-Germany happened in several phases and was highly formalized, from the Mauerfall, treaties, to economic desegregation to the ultimate political and sovereign reunion, whose twentieth anniversary is commemorated on next Sunday, 3. October. Der Spiegel (auch auf englisch) has aggregated perspectives on this theme and offers personal memories and reminiscence. From the point-of-view from all these years forward, it has been fascinating to watch the stampede of documentaries touching on all aspects and sharing H's personal experiences and memories of the way things were and the transition.
Living near the former border and cold-war frontier, we have explored the monuments to the period in depth and visit storied sites in the east quite often, whose part in the DDR are not to be discounted and dismissed but still do barely seem an instance in the far-reaching histories of these places. Germany and Europe is a continual reinvention and now a peaceable conglomerate, but I do wonder what measure of the present condition will be recalled and honored twenty years on with the luxury and comfort of change and reform.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

white fright

Huffington Post contributor, John Ridley, offered a funny, provocative piece the other day, "The unbearable whiteness of anti-intellectualism."  Despite the economic down-turn, the honey-pot for exploiting the fears of white people is bottomless and apparently no limits either to the credibility of distractions.  Stoking such irrational fears sells fall-out shelters, pharmaceuticals and newspapers, as well as financing wars and political campaigns.  The spate of shock-and-awe US headlines are endless: political indiscretions of a teen-age witch, mad-hatter's tea party, chimera influenza, rubbish-bins that snitch if one does not recycle, and don't forget the bed-bugs, roving terror threats and vague warnings never to be off-guard.   I am sure it is not a phenomena peculiar to Americans but I do believe that they have elevated the art form. 
Meanwhile, more pressing, tangible and less phobic concerns are ignored, like the American government trying to hide the true scope of its indebtedness like a guest on a day-time talk show that's appealing to this same fear base, or sacrificing one's privacy in the name of someone else's estimation of security, and abusing the natural environment.  Scare-mongering is not a helpful tactic, and rather a race to the bottom that appeals to and enhances those latent feelings of panic that exacerbates small differences.  

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

l'ecran magique

Available from Headcase, purveyors of many things weird and wonderful, is this iPad sleeve in the form of a classic Etch-A-Sketch, which was originally a French invention which had its premiere at the International Nürnberg Toy Fair in 1959.  This is pretty cool and is a perfect match, although a violent shaking is probably not to be recommended.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

aqua teen hunger force

Comparisons of genetically modified organisms to Dr. Frankenstein is a bit of an insult, since he did not go to mad scientist school for all those years to be called Mr. Frankenstein, and he reanimated a human cadaver, not a vegetable or a fish, and he brought his monster to life without gene manipulation nonsense. There is a debate over the American Food and Drug Administration's being poised to endorse the sale of genetically altered salmon as fit for aquaculture and fit for human consumption. This move seems very ill advised--to dabble with Mother Nature--especially at the behest of business people and fisher-folk. Animal husbandry has taken thousands of years of selective breeding to produce contemporary livestock and stabbing straight to an animal's DNA is a big presumption.  Europe is right to proceed with extreme caution and skepticism on this front.  There is a significant portion of any creature's genetic code that researchers have dismissed as redundant or hitchhiking, and tinkering with the chemicals that give this salmon the ability to mature faster may mean that its shelf-life is severely reduced, prone to food poisoning, or that its immune system is not so hardy. The gene responsible for fast growth could compromise safety by making venomous fish or hyper-intelligent fish who are more vocal about being eaten. And what if these GM salmon interbreed with natural populations? Salmon may lose their ability to navigate fresh- and salt-waters, the wild populations could get sick, or things could turn out like the Secret of NIMH.

Monday, 20 September 2010


As thousands of Germans are choosing to opt out of Google’s roving eye, though it does not seem as dystopic as some mad, fascist Orwellian world-view, there are some concomitant actions in Germany and the European Union that are taking a circumspect and long view at the virtual frontier.
Ahead of a summit on data protection and consumer rights, politicians are calling for means, no self-regulated and left to the industry, to cover one’s internet tracks, especially those footprints left unintentionally and exploited by marketers or in digital photographs that record one’s location and that has a persistence of memory on the web. Surely, such government safeguards cannot satisfy everyone, and some argue that governmental efforts would be better spent on protecting consumers from disreputable internet service providers and other underwriters of fraud, but it is an excellent example of government predicting and adapting to technology, rather than reacting to it within an insufficient legal framework. Furthermore, the crowning achievement, at least in prospective circulation, comes from a working group in Strasbourg in the form of an “internet treaty,” similar to the line in the sand drawn with international cooperation over the ownership of the Antarctic or outer space.

This proposal aims to keep the internet globally open and neutral, curbing government influence over content or allowing deals that would make the internet two-tiered, given speed and preference to paid, premium content. This seems especially important as US, Canadian and other governments seek to assert regulatory control, censor and spoon-feed back to the world public what it already has created, sometimes out of desperation to cut deals in favour of big business or to realize and retain more tax revenues from internet activities.

Sunday, 19 September 2010


Following a novel approach to saddling a chip with bits and bytes using pulses of light instead of miniscule electric current, subscribers to Moore's Law and general aficionados of bigger, better, faster, more are anticipating that quantum computing is within the industry’s grasp, promising computers that will be able to essay complex calculations that are outside of the realm of contemporary processors, making for better models and more accurate predictions as well as improved capability to conduct internet searches.

The amount of data banished to the virtual oubliette is increasing exponentially and scientists, from meteorologists, marketing executives, to chemists and astronomers, have increasingly complex scenarios to ponder through. Brute computational force, however, is not science or creativity—rather it is having that proverbial arsenal of an infinite number of monkeys banging away on an infinite number of typewriters to produce a literary classic. It is the same sort of logical extension that has given rise to those spontaneously generated 100 kilometer long traffic jams in China that pop in and out of existence with no explanation, since the country’s recent prosperity has allowed more to own a car. Likewise, discovering a new pharmaceutical by testing every possible permutation is no real accomplishment and interactions overlooked can present real dangers, especially if researchers become too reliant on computing power to filter out their red herrings and incompatibilities. The serendipity of a new finding, even from a mistake or stumbling upon something unexpected, goes out the window. Wouldn't the internet become an ironic genie if it could deliver exactly what was requested with no errata everytime?  How should one learn about anything new?  Besides, the nature of quantum mechanics does not suggest that circuitry would be without gremlins and bugs of an esoteric and unpredictable variety.  Maybe it would be like the Infinite Improbability Drive from Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, and produce self-fulfilling prophesies, like creating the earthquake it predicts or randomizes non-sensical results, ballerina mountain range, feathered titanium gazebo. In computing it is ever garbage in/garbage out.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

fremde, etranger, stranger

France and Sarkosy are the brunt of quite a bit of honest scrutiny in the European Union, driven by coverage which may not be just as genuine. Now as accusations are exchanged that Merkel and Germany have plans to carry out similar mass-deportations of Sinti and Roma (the ethnic groups formerly known as gypsies), one parliamentarian has drawn allusions to the atrocities perpetrated during the Second World War. Immigration, minority protection, and human welfare are all heady subjects, deserving of close and objective attention. The tone, however, is being set by sensational journalists, it seems, and smacks very much of the recent brawl in America over Koran burning and the so-called Ground Zero mosque. Much of the public was so enflamed because they were led to believe that there was to be a mosque built on the rubble of the World Trade Center site. Never mind that the Ground Zero mosque was to be primarily a non-denominational community center and that there was already a mosque in mid-town Manhattan several blocks closer by. Such a local zoning issue should not have attracted the interest of the whole world and some Christian fanatics without some media false flags. France deported no more non-EU citizens from the country than in years past, and did not particularly target Roma camps, or alter policy during the dog days of summer when no one was watching, as other reporting suggests.
View from Burger King at Ground Zero
Every year, during vacation time, holiday campers take notice of squatter sites because they venture further into the woods and some may feel a little less safe because of them. Stereotypes about Roma realize and perpetuate learned traits, and the public has experience with few people of that background, save the fictional Esmeralda from the Hunch-Back of Notre Dame, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Chaplin and Boba Fett, preferring nomadic, swarthy, mysterious, fortune-tellers. By no means do I condone expulsions and that there should not be more efforts to understand what is going one, only that this may be one of those distractions that can easily fail to make one look at the underlying conditions.  If one community bucks the trappings and standards of another, the one that dictates those mores will always feel threatened and imagine resistances that are not there.

perils of penelope

My mother has found a whole slew of challenging yet relaxing puzzle and logic games for her iPad.  They are a lot of fun and demanding in sense one wants to push these expeditions through to their conclusion.  The graphics and tactile sensitivities are amazing as well.
 I think that this too would be an excellent forum, platform for reviving some of the Nintendo games of the mid- to late-eighties, those handful of zen and phrentic games, like Bobble Bobble or the Adventures of Lolo, whose teasers were I am sure a primer for the military aptitude test--ASVAB or AbFab, like in that movie the Last Starfighter where that kid was recruited for the galatic armada for beating an impossible game, or some endless map-based pursuit against a whole medieval bestiary.  These games were always second picks in the video shop after one had exhausted the latest releases but were always entertaining and thought-provoking.  I think that this could also be a resurrgence, although a beaten game is forever a beaten game and is a sphinx with no secrets, of those early personal computer adventure games, like the classic King's Quest series.  Maybe again, game engineers will create whole worlds and sagas that draw the player in and that require finesse and cleverness.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

iconoclasts or have a nice day

One of the oldest registered trademarks, aside from the canting found on coats-of-arms and municipal and national regalia, is the simple red triangle of Bass Ale.  While a geometric shape does not corner any exclusivity and does not exactly evoke a refreshing beer by association, I rather like the accessible logos that enforce a name or functionality, like the Shell of Royal Dutch Shell or the diamond shape on Collins Gem publishers.  There is apparently a premium to having an iconic symbol or even sensible name anymore, considering the names of showboat medications and finance and telecommunication companies that play on false Latin and superlative words. 
Over-reliance on symbols and metonymy also has its drawbacks and can easily slide into the non-sensical.  The German government, for instance, is currently debating a proposal to augment its religiously executed hygenic checks of commercial kitchens with a smiley face based rating system.  The details have not been entirely worked out, but like a Michelin Guide, restaurant doors will display a scoring of smiley faces based on their cleanliness and rather subjectively on the quality of their cuisine.  The schedule and content of health inspections will not be changed, but finding are distilled and projected for potential guests, in smiley form.  It's this extra level and potential for obfuscation that is crazy-making.  Documentation from inspections could be made public, in their undigested form, for the perusal of the morbidly curious.  Unsafe restaurants are not allowed to stay in operation, and the smileys do not make the inspectors' visits more rigourous.  Probably no diners want to peek in the kitchens of the favourite restaurants and would rather remain blissfully ignorant and not be made to guess at what criteria distinguishes 4 smileys from 3.5 smileys.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

grecian formula

Earlier this month, coinciding with the announcement by the Greek government that there will be no further austerity measures, which lead to riotous protests, to recalibrate the country's economy--I hope that Greece is right and reforms are on pace with recovery, and they are forced to sell any islands or mortgage their cultural heritage to corporate sponsorship, the Hephaisteion all covered with advertizing like a race car--Vanity Fair reporter Michael Lewis embarked on an odyssey from the business centers of Athens to the remote and autonomous, monastic state of Mount Athos to try to gain some insight into the culture that yielded the Greek financial crisis. This article is really intelligent and an interesting read, and while the monks are not precisely sibilants or oracles themselves, their financial acumen is to be respected and their squabble over a swap of formerly mediatised church lands may have brought unwelcome and glaring transparency to the entire Greek market.  Mr. Lewis was able to exercise his journalistic instincts, despite and perhaps because of, as a guest in a place couched with history and tradition.  Maybe the crucial lesson is in his introductory paragraph, when he speaks of Greeks stopped being Greek and Icelanders wanted to forego fishing to become investment bankers during the financial collapse: there is a very Greek term ἐνέργεια, that is being-at-work-staying-the-same.

Monday, 13 September 2010

west world

The Tea Party movement could have been a legitimate protest against US government intrusion in what should otherwise be private affairs, but this new coalition of libertarians have transformed into something quite different--like a band of cowboys lead by Yosemite Sam and Miss Kitty, and this sort of sage brush, gun smoke justice is one that removes all the trappings of civil society. J. J. Rousseau (Dy-no-mite) argued that a functional republic is held together by a social contract, whose government is lent power through the consent of the governed.
The Tea Partiers would elevate themselves above all obligations, civic duties, altogether, and try to realize this sort of cowboys and indians fantasy. It is not unadulterated democratic goals, however, that they are striving noisily for, rather, it is just to unseat whatever new meddlesome, benevolent, or indifferent force that has their old unseated meddlesome, benevolent, or indifferent corporate interests. The Tea Party is not offering reform or a real alternate in their jumbled vitriol, only an uncomfortable choice between two masters, which tries to vacillate among the better qualities of both.
Sophitry can be a dangerous thing, especially if other societies interpret this model as sustainable or honest.  If the sheriff is a socially responsible government, then the public activities are guided and within the framework of general will and overall welfare, and if the sheriff is some corporate entity, there are no inconvenient laws and regulations and greed becomes a means, a measure and an end.  The military-industrial complex can afford security, but its charges, untempered by rights and government leveling, can quickly fall from favour.  Companies may be able to do things more nimbly without bureaucracy and checks and balances, but it is government regulations that give a company motivation to improve its products and services.  Skirting regulations or moving to abandon them altogether accomplishes nothing.  Life gets rather nasty, brutish and short.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

middle earth or hope 2.0

Time Magazine has an interesting interview session with Arianne Huffington on her latest bleak and honest take of America's rapid decline into Third World nation status.  I distinctly remember watching talk shows when I was younger, especially late night ones like Joan Rivers on the UHF Fox channel, and the moment of coming to the realization that my celebrity friends were doing the talk show circuit not just to pay a cordial visit to the hosts and not just for the audience's entertainment but rather to promote their latest book or movie or political campaign.
That felt kind of hollow, that their agents were coordinating these charm offensives, but I think the venues and outlets available today have changed the message, and in many cases it is an occasion for dialogue and not just publicity.  Like her aggregator and forum, the Huffington Post, I am sure her book is a dire and desperate clarion, but for those with the stamina to read further than the groping headlines, like Time's reporter echoed, the book's second part, after the morbid assessment, has some brighter prescriptions on what to do and what could be America's reprieve.  It makes me want to compare Obama to Don Quixote, but not just for dare-devil hopes and certainly not for mistaken delusions, but for the author, Miguel Cervantes, having to deal with libel in his own time, ghost-written adventures and unauthorized biographies on his main characters.  There was a difficult choice to face between indulging bewitchment and moving towards disenchantment.  The photograph is from the seaward facing wall of the ruins of the resort at Prora during our trip to the Baltic coast over the summer.  There was a mural with "Yes, we hope."  I am not sure how recently the art work was added or the original message, but the world should certainly never leave off wanting to remain informed and hopeful.

Friday, 10 September 2010

with what shall I fix it, dear liza, dear liza

As the Washington Post reports, debt and infrastructure and regulatory shortcomings have dulled the competitive edge of American business. I believe that it is not only the Americans that subscribe to American-Exceptionalism, and the whole world over expects something superlative and undeniable, self-assured to come out of that nation. Switzerland still directs the most sophisticated game going, but America is slipping in the ranks.

The US, and other nations on the decline, are also suffering due to diminished future prospects and lack of a clear policy direction that can help them address it. While I understand that the World Economic Forum projects its ratings based on economic criteria, the resulting descriptors, like competitiveness, nimbleness and adaptability, remind me a lot of Geert Hofstede's indices and cultural framework as factors that limn business relations. I wrote a few papers on the subject for school and found it to be pretty fascinating material. National character determines whether a people are risk adverse and the attitude they take in forming partnerships, but I wonder how these influences look in reverse. Does an injury to one's national security change the scales from cultural individualism towards collectivism--or vice-versa, and for entrenched ideas for power distance?  Culture is more permanent, surely, than daily shocks and sputters and definitely not monolithic, but historically, I feel, one's dealings matched and were supported by their cultural totems.

zan & jayna

Chair--form of sofa. Students at École polytechnique fédérale in Lausanne, France are experimenting with intelligent, modular furnishings, Roombots, that autonomously reconfigures itself to suit the situation, like a dining table lowering to a bed, extra rows of chairs shape shifting in a conference table, or even an unneeded office suite transforming, desk, chairs and all, into a cubicle wall or shelving unit.  Aware of independent components, smaller units divide and unite according to design and need.  Developments from such prototypes could really innovate space utilization, in conference centers and exposition halls, museums, warehouses (where the shelves are the forklifts), day care centers and hotels, not to mention greater flexibility to the tiny home movement by making better use of a modest footprint.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

public service announcement

Diploma mill university did not saddle me with an excessive student loan burden, but the more I peek and poke around it, eying to undercut any exorbitant interest payments for myself and not bankroll the loan sharks, the more I realize what a tar pit of inescapable debt, and perhaps the next financial bubble student loans are.

College Scholarships makes the issue, the game, wholly accessible, if still indigestible, with their infographic (what does that even mean? Rebus sentence, collage, vanity license plate?) in the marginalia.  While at the height of the mortgage, sub-prime lending crisis--which the US has not exactly recovered or apparently gleaned much of a lesson from either, defaults on something so serious as home and hearth hovered at around a quarter of households.  Student loan default rates for recent graduates, however, range from 30% to 60% and that's without any government intervention and forgiveness, which attempts to make amends to keep people from loosing everything, but defaulting on student loans has no recourse.  Ever.  Recent government reform, coinciding with student loan debt surpassing credit card debt in America, only served to cut out the intermediaries and keep more of the profit that high tuition and outrageous, long-lived repayment terms have milked from young people.  Someone in America has the chance to start over through declaring bankruptcy and absolve bad credit, but the government will always recuperate student loans, with interest, for the academics that it vetted.  This sort of servitude is despicable and self-perpetuating, either pushing young professionals to the highest-salaried, most soulless positions that they can find to repay debts or to the citizen service corps to erase accumulated loans.  It is really rather terrifying to think that this sort of abject treatment and cornering could bloom into a great reckoning, especially compared to the nominal cost associated with university any where else in the world, and levels of private impoverishment that would challenge any soverereign debt default.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome--time for zis one to come home

The privacy debate, and not without good cause, is still part of the German Zeitgeist over Google Maps and Street View.  People, no matter where, should not become complacent to the extent with their private lives or reasonable expectations thereof where they accept any possible encroachment at face value, though what not readily available online, whether unwillingly or freely given, is becoming more and more rare and precious.  To get more acquainted with the vistas that Google affords, however, Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student Joe McMichael developed this Global Genie that can beam one around the earth at random.

inland empire or BLUF

As the stimulus printing-presses in the United States are working in overdrive to try to restore enough confidence to unfreeze the hording of surplus money, which is rather counterintuitive since the easing of financial instruments (i.e., printing more money or selling more dubious debt to cover these outlays) threatens deflation, making money worth more by making things cost less, there is some dangerous momentum being set off. Regardless of what gossip is going on in broader stock markets, however, it is the wages of the wage-earners that is the bottom-line--BLUF is a misleading acronym for "bottom-line up front" that I always thought was an ironic way to start out a communiqué, no, seriously.

On that front, whether distinct or not from instilling confidence in market fundamentals, stimulus dollars have also been allocated in what some would call "make-work" programs to improve infrastructure. Making the delivery systems, roads and utilities, of America better and more efficient is a worthwhile cause, since better and more reliable transportation and support systems are the only things giving the US a slight advantage over India and China, but I am sure that such initiatives are the brunt of a lot of criticism: utility companies in whatever form, from the internets, to the telecoms, to the gas and electric companies, are despicable things that always breed a begrudging relationship, and when compared to the stuff of Roosevelt's New Deal, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Hoover Dam, national monuments and stupendous gothic revival city halls and courthouses, a few filled potholes and hydrogen powered busses seem rather boring. Repairing and improving infrastructure is very important, but I do hope that same sentiment is not further transmuted to bolstering America's bucket-brigade of garrisoned and standing armies worldwide. It is a disservice to peace and security by posturing as the world's police force and imperial guard. There are dwindling occasions where such expansionist policy serves the US well, aside from political bullying in the interest of US corporations--a very bad thing though perhaps diabolically astute, and in case of an alien invasion, whose justification I might believe if they were trying to sell it that way.

Monday, 6 September 2010

freistoot boarn

H and I took out the Bulli Camper for maybe the last trip of the season and drove through the lush and scenic Bayerische Wald to the outer-most reaches of the Free State.  Along the way, we stopped at Walhalla, the hall of national heroes and cultural treasures.  King Ludwig who had this monument, a hall of busts of the greatest German contributers to the arts, science and state-craft, commissioned had a fondness for all things classically Greek and inserted the rather foreign Ypsilon into the German language--as in Bayern
The city of Passau, where three rivers coverge and the Danube rolls onward was our denoument, and we had a great long weekend and were lucky once again with the fair weather.  The natives were very friendly and distinctive--I was not quite able to name what it was that colored this region differently than our own part of Bavaria.
Returning, we stopped at the library cloister at Metten, whose golden archangel guarded the village.  I thought the statue looked rather robotic, like an avatar for Voltron, defender of the faith.

pigeon forge

From our balcony looking towards the little river, we have a regular display of wild birds.  Sometimes when an unusual one passes by, I try to identify it in this old children's birdwatchers' guidebook, which does a pretty good job of illustrating Germany's fowl. 
While trying to name our most recent siting, I was reading over the pigeon and dove (Tauben) section, and wondered at the caption accompanying the common, city pigeon, die Türkentaube.  At first, I wondered just at the name, and then at the text, "They have lived with us since 1946," going on to describe its environment and feeding habits.  I thought, how did the pigeons know that the war was over--what a strange thing to insert in a children's book and what does that have to say about current immigration and integration reform.  It turns out that this now ubiquitous breed of pigeon, whose native range is from Turkey to Japan, was not introduced into European stocks until this time, in efforts to restore roosts and an industry damaged by years of violence.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

taboo you tour

The provocative tracts and the media circus featuring German Federal Bank representative Thilo Sarrazin is rousing several uncomfortable debates that I do not believe are palatable material for a public forum. There is too much taboo in it. The vitriol and the extreme claims are not helpful and do not forward Sarrazin's arguments, nor really lend much credence to those who disagree with him.

Sarrazin is not right but people may be too quick to dismiss his assessment, which may be a distasteful truth: there may be difficulties with immigration and there may be the potential for cultural clashes but the situation that Sarrazin presents (however prejudicially and imperfectly) invites the question to the public what kind of Germany do you want, inclusive and tolerant or otherwise. Maybe, however, Germany's dogmatists need to recruit Jesus in this process, like America's ambassadors of love, peace and understanding, the Tea Party set, or stellar models of integration, like occupied Palestine, who the US is currently trying to mediate while at the same time addressing its own hateful debate over the mosque not only at Ground Zero but mosques in general and drones patrolling the border with Mexico. Further, I wonder what would have been made of Sarrazin's book had he substituted Jewish and Muslim people with "Russians." Would there have been this uproar or just blasé nods of concurrence and what does that mean about the tenor of tolerance in general?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

skywalker ranch or blue harvest

Fantastic graphic designer and Etsy artisan Andy Helms is selling has sold new, reimagined prints of the Star Wars space opera odyssey.  These posters are awesome and have a really keen, Jungian common-fate movement to them, similar to Mark Eco fashions. 

idée fixe

EU legislation has condemned the old fashioned, inefficient and heat-generating light bulb (German--Glühbirn, glowing-pear) in favor of the lower wattage, longer-lived variety. This is a good move which will reduce waste since light-bulbs are reputedly resistant to recycling--which is something I do not quite buy--and save consumers money on their utility bills, figured rather unexcitedly over the life-time of the light-bulb. This restriction, beyond promotion of a cost-saving measure and a sensible idea, could create a underground culture of after-market old fashioned light-bulbs to fit vintage and antique lamps. There must be surplus stock for decades-worth of lighting that are now barred from retail outlets but could span a grey-market. I do not want to buck the ecologically smart trend, but I like the idea of sneaking around to bypass newly-mandated contraband. It makes me think about those eternal, early incandescent bulbs that are still burning from Thomas Edison's time, the heydays of tinkering and experimentation. The designed obsolescence supposedly came later, once manufacturers realized that there was no money to be made in something that did not need to be replaced.