Saturday, 27 February 2010

pay no attention to that man behind the curtain

With the debates on US healthcare reform providing a sufficient and numbing cover, the Senate and the Congress voted to renew the US Patriot Act, which is actually an uncatchy acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism--like our unnecessary and tautologically named SORT program (aka, Keep your Neighbourhood Tidy) which is separate or recycle trash, without any safeguards or promised curtailments or gaspy, relieved sunsets.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

budgetary guidance

Despite telling figures that a quarter of US home mortages are underwater, housing-starts have slumped, American consumer confidence is crestfallen, massive layoffs, endemic underemployment, and planned or threatened buget cuts in all sorts of social services are circulating, there are still priorities (aside from defense, people seem to always find the money to perpetuate wars). 

After a decade of complaints from the community for being a bad neighbor (draconian security and general bother, as well as unpaid parking tickets and some 32 million pounds in unpaid congestion fees), the US is abandoning its embassy in storied Grosvenor Square for a planned site in posh and shabby-chic Battersea.  The US apparently has a billion dollars of ease-worthy funds to invest on this crystalline Borg ship, complete with a moat.
The American government is also allocating more funds for federal prisons, in the face of general cut-backs and Grecian--stoic--austerity measures elsewhere.  That decision seems a little prescient with the proposals for a civil policing corps and all the citizens that might be pushed to resorting to what passes as criminal behavior when their budgets can't be balanced.  So many things are criminalized US and punishable with incarceration, but there still won't be a cell block reserved for the robber-barons.  Of course, at the rate that US and UK attitudes are converging, they may well arrest the hapless photographer who snaps a picture of the construction site and disappear him away to a prison in America.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

suffragette city

Though still not yet a German citizen, I did receive this personal invitation to vote by mail with an official ballot to choose no more than ten candidates (out of thirteen in the running) for parish representatives to speak up for Bad Karma in the larger diocese of Bavaria.   It is not the same as being chosen as a member of the conclave to elect the next Pope, but I plan to take this seriously and am just glad for the chance to be able to vote here, even for the chance to be apathetic, confused or dismissive, too

Thursday, 18 February 2010

hoi polloi

Greece, it seems, invented democracy, philosophy, scientific inquiry, art and architecture--and then called it a day, some say 3500 years past its prime.  Yesterday, the European Union temporarily rescinded Greece's voting rights until the Greeks can put their finances in order--also perhaps as retribution for hiding their insolvency behind currency swaps.  It is more symbolic than anything on the part of the EU to suspend Athens for this one inconsequential vote, but it is really a shock to the idea of suzerainty and self-determination are betrays some of the EU's latent power.  Last week Germany refused to toss the Greeks a life-line in the form of an American-style bailout, which proved wildly popular with the Germans who don't believe that the dissolute should be funded by their thrift. 
 Before full sovereignty is restored, Greece must reign in its deficits to within three percent of their Gross Domestic Product and reform the tax-collecting system, or Greece could lose control of its own fiscal policy altogether.  This seems harsh but maybe other countries should take a cue: if America suspended California's voting rights, though, there would be a new US civil war.  Of course, California's connection with the US is not just through a common currency but it is also, for what it's worth, a political bloc.  The EU, on the other hand, can only hope to maintain a viable and meaningful euro, without a political union, through adherence to its rigourous monetary standards. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

diet of Worms

PfRC is not going on sabbatical just yet, but soon H and I are going to take a short tour of the Moselle region and visit the two cities that have been vying for centuries for the title of the oldest in Germany, Roman Trier and Wagnerian Worms.  In the coming days, be sure to visit our companion, Our Little Travel blog, for regular updates and postcards from the edge.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

carnivale

Since some time now, I have been rather a humbug when it comes to Fasching celebrations (the German equivalent of Carnival)--not keen on dressing up or partying on a school night.  My sister in the States braved blizzard conditions in the Deep South to make the trek along the coast to New Orleans for Marti Gras.  I hope she's having a blast, and I am sure the drive will be most memorable, if snow in Mississippi does not become common-place in the next years.  Even if Lent, what all this lead-up is about--sage old Carnival queens and krewes should tell a Lenten story like they do for Passover, why is this night different from all other nights?--is all about privation and shunning temptation, it really kicks off vacation planning in earnest, especially after this winter's captivity.   H and I have quietly plotted our escapes, and though I am useless when it comes to long-term planning and the business of logistics, I am overwhelmingly excited about the trips and dates held in reserve that we have on slate.  Those vintage Star Wars travel posters are not reflective of our next destinations (for next time), but are the very stylish and clever work of graphic artist Justin van Genderen.


Friday, 12 February 2010

UR doomed

Just scant hours after the EU bravely and laudably refused to comply with US requests for banking data sharing in the name of prevention of terrorism, the Obama administration made a statement in support of new initiatives to cull cell phone tower pings (and call logs rendered freely by telecoms) and triangulate users' locations, because citizens should have no reasonable expectations of privacy or anonymity of their whereabouts, or more precisely, the whereabouts of their cell phones.  This sounds like some poor, B-movie glomming onto the plot from the last Batman or Echalon Conspiracy. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

the more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems that will slip through your fingers

I really have not followed the now disputed presidential election results for the Ukraine and the subsequent havoc and calls for a recount.  I only try to keep up with the politics because opposition Julia Timoschenko reminds me of Princess Leia, and her challenger, the ostensible winner, makes me think she's up against some dark sith lord or power-hungry Grand Moff Tarkin, that she's rallying the Rebel Alliance against the Evil Empire.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

raubkopier

There is a fairly impassioned debate going on in the German government about the ethicality of reviewing the financial data on a pilfered CD-ROM from a Swiss bank clerk.  German already paid a tidy ransom to the bank clerk for a list of reportedly 5000 German individuals who have been stashing money away in the Confederacy to avoid paying taxes.  The German government justified its purchase, since it stands to recoup up to a billion euro in tax revenue.  Not every one is pleased with Germany's conduct for dealing in stolen goods.  What if it was not a stolen list of tax-evaders, but a list of welfare grifters or people with outstanding hospital bills?  What sort of message does it send to Switzerland--that there should be a similiar bounty on German confidential files?  There was a big to-do already in Davos over what previous few props are available for banking giant UBS and what would it mean to hand over a slice of bailout pie to Zurich.  It does not seem any different than state-supported piracy to me.  Last year, this sort of exchange between Vaduz and the States led me to cleaning out and closing my Liechtensteiner, Swiss-Lite account.  Now, however, I understand that there is a plaintiff in case against the partner bank that surrendered his financial data, that made him cough up his back taxes, who has successfully sued for several millions due to distress incurred.

Monday, 8 February 2010

hosana superstar

Since first seeing a passion play as a little kid put on in other worldly crater in the Witchia Mountains in Oklahoma, I have wanted to see the play performed in Oberammergau.  It's not an opportunity that comes up everyday to see that sort of spectacle and I didn't want to miss it.  I was there once to visit the NATO school there--I wonder if those students take part.  For over four hundred years, the residents have performed this grand play to fulfill a pledge to God, promising to do so because the village was spared during the pestillence.  I guessed, like most passion plays, they have a limited run and confined to the Eastertide.  It turns out, I discovered while plotting vacations and other such get-aways, that the Oberammergauers take this show on, daily, for an entire season, running from May to October.  Jesus, for this decade, will be portrayed, by the village psychologist, and Mary will be played in this performance by an airline stewardess.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

teach me tiger

This year Valentines' Day and the Chinese Lunar New Year coincide.  This year is the year of the Tiger, and according to the Feng Shui Index it will be volitile but especially auspicious for people born during the year of the Dragon (I count myself as one of those, dim sum and then some).  As you celebrate the dawn of the new year with your special Valentine, I'd recommend listening to the April Stevens classic.

Friday, 5 February 2010

semantic memories

I have a host of strange dreams, almost nightly.  A lot of them invoke some architectural associations, vast halls and impossibly high and steep drops, endless stairwells.  I dreamt the other night I was in an ancient Russian fortress, which had seen an incarnation as a firestation.  Deep wells ran through the turrets that formerly had fire poles to slide down.   Nothing so strange or spectacular there, but I distinctly remember taking out my digital camera and snapping a few shots of the castle.  I cannot recall ever having the wherewithal to have a dream camera at my disposal.  When I woke up, I reviewed the photos on the camera, just to make sure.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

the mouse that roared

Ahmadinejad at Muppet Laboratories really amuses me, like some dancer in the chorus of a Busby Berkley musical number.  I do appreciate Iran's efforts to fill the science void that the devestiture of NASA will bring, and I am not sure if this was part of the promise to deliver a powerful message to Western global powers, but a rocket launched a little menagerie of two turtles, a mouse and a "few worms" to a sub-orbital clime.  A few worms doesn't have the same celebrity as Latka the Russian space dog.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

2.0

The US army services are being dragged into the next decade over the broken debris of its missed opportunities.  Last month's close call with the underpants bomber was blamed in part on out-dated government computer systems, and now the military is rethinking its stance on all sorts of types of blocking.  Despite not having uniform policy and enforcement, the army is embracing WiFi and the so-called Web 2.0 to allow the hive-mind full freedom and unrestricted dastardliness, through the vehicles of Facebook and Twitter.  140-word spasms are certainly grown-up steps.  The army is even moving to repeal some of its more nonsensical information security measures, which contributed to neither information nor security.  And now there's buzz about gaying the whole party up a notch.  Brava

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

the lunatic is on the grass

After the scheduled decommissioning of the fleet of space shuttles this year, NASA will be more or less grounded.  A portion of the funds that were to be allocated for space exploration will go to sponsor private ventures, which is surely exciting but Virgin Galactic does not front the same officiousness as a national space agency.  The US is dropping some of its support missions to the International Space Station and curbing other projects, including the re-commitment for a manned-moon mission.  I understand that there are more immediate priorities and that crown and coffer have evaporated, but it's more than a bit sad that there won't be that sort of spectacle and wonder for the forseeable future.

Monday, 1 February 2010

shah

Apparently Ahmadinejad has accelerated his rhetoric, and the US is responding by deploying more land- and sea-based missile shields for its allies in the Gulf region.  Iran is promising to delivery "a telling blow to global powers," on 11 February, which is the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution that installed Ayatollah Khomeini.