Wednesday, 31 March 2010

free-range or event-horizon

Enforcement of a recent decision to liberate the hens, banning the keeping of battery fowl, has meant that German is experiencing an Easter egg shortage that has caused the Easter Bunny and his accomplices to bring in imports.   The surplus eggs, I'm sure, are being supplied by strike-breakers still confined to cages, though.  The chickens should have unionized a long time ago.  The shortage did not stop H, however, from masterfully decorating the place for Easter.
In other developments, CERN's Large Hadron Collider (the German term for particle accelerator is Teilchen Abschleuniger, which is hard to puzzle out) is back on line and has crossed a new energetic record.  Power unleashed by the collisions approach conditions experienced during the Big Bang, and interestingly, the facility is also the coldest place in the universe: the magnetic coils are kept within a fraction of absolute zero in order to run effectively.  Researchers are underway to new discoveries about the cause of universal gravitation and supersymmetries.  Though the majority of the scientific community downplay or dismiss fears as unfounded, a vocal minority warns that these experiments could destroy the earth by creating mini-blackholes or anti-matter.  Angela Merkel, the Kanzlerin, has an advanced degree in Physics from the University of Leipzig, and I am sure would voice her warnings if she thought otherwise.  If she and others underestimated the consequences, I doubt an official apology would suffice.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

arguendo or Catchascatchcan

Angela Merkel has been meeting this week with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Abdullah Gul and today is being treated to a signt-seeing tour of Istanbul of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia after a summit that has not hurdled many disagreements and points of contention.  Merkel is our scout and cruise director, at least.  Resistant to the notion of assimilation, Turkey is pressing for inclusion of Turkish language primary and secondary school for the diaspora.  On the other side, Merkel has reaffirmed her shared hesitation about EU membership for the state, whose admissions process has been held up on more than one count, like refusal to recognize Cypriot sovereignty.
My current unit for my MBA studies focuses on international business law, and while it is just a smattering of knowledge--I understand what is meant by the various legal and accountable spectres of ltd and plc and even GmBH and KG--I feel I have learned a few things.  Not many matters of diplomacy and politico-economic unions, outside of trade and the aegis of common law, are touched on as such, per se, inter alia but I suspect that when Germany says that it and Turkey have a special relationship already and the two should work within that framework, it refers to an old Roman by the name of Status Quo.

Monday, 29 March 2010

eastertide or turkish delight

Spring recess for German school is this week leading up to Easter and many families are taking this break to embark on the year's first vacation.  It's relatively slow and quiet right now, due to this exodus--short of like the lemming health care professionals' escape en masse during the month of August.  Mind you don't get sick then. 
But we have had nebulous plans to have our next trip a bit later in the month, and for quite some time, though the agenda has not been fully articulated.  Who would want to take a break, unless compelled, when things are not so hectic and one can expect a lot of company?  I am excited and I fully expect the planning phase to come together very soon.  We have booked at least the essentials of passage to Istanbul, and have just been overwhelmed with history, ancient and modern, and have been studying to be a little better prepared for the next adventure.

Friday, 26 March 2010

universal coverage or dragnet

Being a civil servant and a conscientious bureaucrat, I feel I am a bit spoiled when it comes to entitlements like health care coverage.  I complain about the quality and speed of reimbursement, at least in a strictly theoretical sense since I fortuneately have never had occasion to make a claim against my policy and that's mostly just commiseration with those who have been at the mercy of insurers' schedules.  I realize, however, that most others would be happy and grateful to have a plan like this, subsidized by the US government--at least until last week.
I  hope this new reform act, which also has a clever proviso that's not been talked up much that better defines SallieMae as a quasi-government agency and culls predatory lenders from the student loan process, guarantees at least these baseline standards for everyone.  One special case, however, I do wonder about would apply to this corps of us diplomats, ambassadors of red tape--I get worn down by the fact that in this job, one is not allowed or encouraged many times to be smart or helpful but the exact opposite and most of the end-products of government work is of the same ilk.  Before (at least, last week) one was allowed to drop this relatively gracious insurance package if due to what's called a "life event."  If I became eligible for insurance under the German system--or chose to go route, I would be able to opt out.  Am I still allowed to do so, and what of those already under German Krankenversicherung?  Or does that now take a full and complete renunciation.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

cute interlude or the rites of Spring

The online German cultural magazine The Local (auch auf englisch) has an adorable montage of zoo babies.  This website is great to browse through from time to time for human interest and off-beat articles that usually aren't part of mainstream translation.

there's a lake of stew and soda-pop too and you can paddle all around in a big canoe

On Sunday, Obama pushed through the much simonized the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, and I have hope that this is a good thing for America.  A lot of compromise and negotiation went into this and are still to come, surely there are more to come with Senate input.  I just hope that this does not go the way of other recent, historic overhauls like the Department of Homeland Security or Rumsfeld's mad-bomber approach to reforming the civil service system with NSPS (National Security Personnel System), which is now being rescinded or the half a dozen changes of nomenclature promulgated by the Ministry of Revisions.  One can read the full text from the Library of Congress here.
There has been a virtual landslide of commentary on both sides.  Here is a bit of point/counterpoint.  First Reuter's News Services issued this fact box with a timeline.

...WITHIN THE FIRST YEAR
-Insurance companies will be barred from dropping people from coverage when they get sick.  Lifetime coverage limits will be eliminated and annual limits are to be restricted.
-Insurers will be barred from excluding children for coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
-A temporary reinsurance program is created to help companies maintain health coverage for early retirees between 55 and 64.
-Medicare drug beneficiaries who fall into the "doughbut hole" coverage gap will get a $250 rebate...
WHAT HAPPENS IN 2011
-Employers are required to disclose the value of health benefits of employees' tax returns...
There is a virtual landslide of commentary on both sides, and here is a little bit of point/counterpoint.

Investors' Digest Daily has issued the counter-argument:
-You are young and don't want health insurance?  You are starting up a small business and need to minize expenses, and one way to do that is to forego personal insurance?  Tough.  You have to pay $750 per annum for that "privilege."
-Health insurance companies will no longer be able to underwrite on the basis of a person's health status.
-Health insurers will no longer be able to offer policies that do not cover preventive services or offer them cost sharing, despite customer wishes.
-As a hospital administrator, you can only expand your facility if and only if it is located in a county whose population has grown 150% in the last five years proportionally to the population of the surrounding state.
-Employers can no longer offer flexible spending plans, even if that's what the worker wants.

H and I talked about these developments a little bit, and suspects that German who abandon its social healthcare system, if they could get away with it, no matter how equitable it is.  I just hope there is some convergent evolution on the part of America.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

orange, lemon, cherry, lime

Coinciding with United Nations Water Day, astronomers report that water on the Moon, like water under the ocean, comes in more than one flavour.  There was also some spectacular magic-lantern images of glacial formations on Mars, ice walls hewn to pristine artic craters, courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Monday, 22 March 2010

playbill

The UK Independent has a swank article on the revitalization of the graphic arts--that film posters do not have to tow a specific, formulaic line and can be creative and evocative without cramming in the static contents of the beta version of the trailers or credits over some windswept plain or cast cameo.  The article also points to this brillant artist who has meshed 80's movies with pulp fiction style book jackets, which I have blogged about several times before.  Advertisements and concert posters were quite creative little bundles and there's no call for marketing to be boring or painfully cogent and transparent.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

spring funk

For this past week, I've not felt motivated to take much advantage of the nicer weather, and H told me about a phenomenon called Frühjahrsmüdigkeit, Spring time tiredness--like a seasonal affective disorder.  I've just been sleepy, and although warmer and squandrons of migrating water fowl are overhead, the sun is still conspicuously absent and threatens prolonged periods of rain.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

MKUltrée

Last week, the Telegraph circulated a story that really reignites all those old covert spook stories of secret US government experimentation.  Concensus is leaning more towards the CIA lacing grain with LSD to study its effects on a village, Pont-Saint-Esprit, in rural France one late summer day in 1951, rather than ergotism blamed on the village baker as was thought for decades.  The whole population suffered were plagued with violent hallucinations, and some did violence to themselves or were committed to mental institutions after the singular episode.  The public knows there is truth behind the CIA operations with those MK- designations.  France, however, has had its history of mania and mass-hysteria without US government interference.  In Strausbourg and then in Metz in the 1518, there were cases of seemingly enchanted dancers, where hundreds of people jived and gyrated until they collapsed from exhaustion.  The victims were compelled to keep moving against their will, and it was nothing like dated crazes like flag-pole sitting or crowding into phone booths or apparently spiking the grain supplies of other nations with mind-altering drugs

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

tiajuana

It is break week for my MBA programme, and I wonder what one does traditionally for spring break for an on-line course of study.  I understand the usual bastions of sophomoric excess in the States, Mexican border towns, have become far too dangerous, like tinderboxes tempting violence, ransom or murder for their US holiday-makers.  What surprised me most about this news item was not the spill over of drug violence, but that there is no limit for capacity to scare white people--I could not believe the xenophobia and frightful nationalism and ugly asides in the comment, buzzed-up section after the article.  Careless behavior should not invite violence, but peripheral violence should not justify reactionary fears and useless stereotypes.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

urban legend

Slowly and without much notice, it is being revealed that the coalition of the willing fighting in Afghanistan have significantly inflated news of the taking of Marjah in Helmand Province, not a metropolitian stronghold of some 80 000 souls but rather a dusty little village with a mosque and a few shops.  This success was touted as a major turning point for the allies and was hoped to justify the prolonged effort.

what's up, buttercup?

To counter the general mood of the weather that's yet heavy and gray, H and I are trying to brighten up the place a bit with some flowers--actually, call them Narcissi, jonquils or daffodils.  I like the round-about etymology of daffodil the best: like the mythology of Narcissus, the name daffodil comes from the Greek word asphodel for the ghostly flowers that grew in the fields of the purgatory of Hades where mediocre souls grazed on them, and things were perfectly neutral and gray, like today's sky.  Maybe that's why the flowers bloom at this time of year, just before world is gob-smacked with the full force of Spring time, as an early signal that nature is about to re-awaken.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

vade retro satane

The Times of London reports that the Holy See's equivalent of the Department of Homeland Security, the chief exorcist, is attributing the perennial spate of scandals to demonic possession in the Vatican and suggests a purging is in order.
 That article was cheap sensationalism and intented to be derisive.  It is a very serious issue that must be redressed and handled transparently, and an exorcism may or may not be part of that reconciliation process.  No one is suggested that blame is shifted and that people were not responsible for their actions--like the Pope's failure to recollect any bad press curried by his Regensberg cohorts, which is either attributable to dishonesty or a failing memory, whichever is worse--and nothing redeemingly diabolical.  Reading the story, however, I noticed right away that the chief exorcist and I have the very same silver and enamel crucifixes.  The Church is mired in controversy but it will emerge from it better and more accountable, and hopeful no one will have to repeat these repeated sufferings.  Hang in there, baby.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

dazzling, but where is the pop!?

Yesterday, the Onion posted a very astute article on the dwindling attention span of the media's average readership.  I found the lampoon to be pretty clever, as I do much of the work that the Onion has done over the decades--that is when I remember to check it.  I wonder what kind of dedication it takes to turn on as opposed to tune in.  What kind of virtual roadie archival dedication does it take nowadays to keep up with all the frentic and mindless competition?

compliance & complaints newsletter

I am rather forcibly included on quite a lot of mailing list, most of which are not worth a second glance.  The Winter edition of the EEOCCR newsletter is the most absolutely franjabulous bureaucratic circular that I've seen in a long time.  Not only is the organization headed by friendly chap named "Spurgeon," the marginalia quotes Proust, has information on historic tourist destinations in Washington, DC, has a section called "voidably vague verbiage" that advises against obfuscation by being generally non-commital, and discusses at lenght the 2008 passage of GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act), as amended.  Electronic publications are certainly scatter-shot, but I think the actual deed of sending something to print made people a little more selective about what passed as informative and comprehensive.  I am certainly not knocking the Equal Opportunity Office, despite being mired in the muck of abbreviations--after all, GINA indentified the gay-gene and then subsequently made it an outcast, I just think an old fashion fan club is a more fitting forum.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

abacus

In response to revelations about Greece short-selling themselves and floating their solvency on currency-swaps, the main economic players the EU, Germany and France, are proffering new regulations to curtail this sort of market necromancy.  They are calling for limits to trade driven off of speculation that's been abstracted away from anything that remotely resembles a commodity to be found in this dimension or this plane of being, a future losing-bet deferred.  It's not only mathematical spin that makes things like derivatives inaccessible and incomprehensible, but also some of the loopholes that corporations are herded towards that have absolutely floored me during my protracted studies towards an MBA and make it small wonder that everyone owes everyone else and no one can cough it up.  Brokers, and businesses, it seems only make money by shifting risk.  Admittedly, there's just a smattering of actual financial mathematics, whose variables are divined somehow, and teh coursework has focused on leadership and management ethics, but even what can ultimately be stated sans formulae is incredibly obtuse and counterintuitive and sneaky.  Math is supposed to make complex things clearer--not lend credibility to some hollow shell game.  One doubts its letting out a big secret, but it's more profitable for a company to float its capital on bonds and debt, rather than reinvest its own earnings, due to how the US tax codes are written.  Who would bet on that?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

concensus

After a seemingly unremitting planning phase and calls that the hired help has skewed actually US jobless numbers, the American census process is picking up.  This decade it will be conducted under the friendly auspices of the Patriot Act and with a regular calvacade of entrenched, deputized bureaucrats.  I am sure that other countries accomplish the same feat with more accuracy, with more frequency and with less general bother.  What surprises are going to be revealed?  I doubt it would be anything that could floor anyone, nor significantly alter the political landscape.  If I still lived in America and one of the concensus-takers came calling, I would tell him that 60,000 people resided at this address, so I would qualify for my own congressional representative.

Friday, 5 March 2010

I'm a Sozial!


There are quite a few campaign posters up for the next round of elections.  Many, like this one, promote the candidate as trustworthy, progressive and of course "Sozial."  In the context, I understand what they are trying to convey but it makes me think of that meme (and perhaps it was only me who thought it was such a bandwagon, per se, like saying "Rabbit, Rabbit" and doing a somersault out of bed on the first day of the month) that Michael Buckley made very funny, teasing some reality show star, I'm sure.  I am sure the committee to elect Burgermeister Meisterburger does not endorse this message.  In unrelated news, Germany has vowed that Greece will not see one euro from them until they bring their own house in order.  Germany suggested that the Greeks sell some of their uninhabited islands to raise cash.  This sounds less than optimal in practice.  After all, who is the buying spirit lately?  Dubai is not prepared to snatch up this real estate, and we would end up with Scylla and Charibdis and the Sirens named for sad old corporate maligners.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

wi-fight

To be commended for exercizing some common sense and restraint, the German high court voted to overturn a 2008 dragnet on personal communications, that allowed the government to collect data indiscriminately and retain it for an indefinite period, six-months at a minimum.  The justice ministers said that the government must be selective when trawling for data and that gathering such data violated secrecy and privacy laws.

Monday, 1 March 2010

zephyr

Just as all the remaining pockets of snow melted--that dirty, crappy snow that lingers like a ticklish cough--a powerful wind storm tore across Western Europe, scouring France and our part of Germany very hard.  Gusts were in excess of 145 kilometers per hour with sustained winds of 80.  They also named the depression "Xynthia," which I think is doubly odd--for one, because German weathermen have adopted naming the slightest breeze, and secondly, because German law is very particular about how parents can name their children, and names have to be proper, real names and I don't think this one would necessarily hold up.  In the meantime, I was closely watching the little river, swollen from the snow melt, at the end of our street to see if it managed to hurdle its banks throughout the day, but I was really sort of frightened in the night to think about an invisible, creeping flood--supplanted somewhere underneath the din and howl of the storm.