Monday, 31 October 2011

flik und flak or endless summer

Trying to triangulate times among Germany, the States and Russia has become a bit more complicated. In Germany and most of western Europe, day-light savings time ended early Sunday morning--a change that occurs a week prior to when America falls back. Russia, however, opted out of observing the time-change altogether this year, stating primarily seasonal-affective disorder and, I think, inviting debate on a custom of dwindling utility. The apparent motion of the Sun around the Earth throughout the year does a good job of shortening and lengthening the days without legislative intervention, and the fact that Daylight Savings Time (and Standard Time) was first proposed and championed in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are opposite ought not to be taken as strong testimony. So the time's off in the United States and Russia, from a German perspective, although that may not matter much, since its likely a public holiday--a chaotic collusion either today or tomorrow: the predominately Protestant Länder (Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxon, Saxon-Anhalt, and Thuringia) celebrate Reformation Day (Reformationstag) when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg on Halloween, and the Catholic Länder (Baden Württemberg, Bavaria, North Rhine Westphalia, Rhineland-Pfalz and Saarland) observe the following day All Saints (Allerheiligen). Hours and days certainly count and the few seconds devoted to ensure synchronization are certainly well-spent as well, not so much for the early, bleary sunrise but in the custom and reflecting on what others do.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

pferd is the word

We have accumulated, I was noticing, after we hung the hunting scenes around the old Chinese lamp, quite a few things from the horsey-set. Beforehand, I saw that we had more than a few goats around the house. The ceramic Trojan horse was made either by my grandmother or her best friend (that has been debated) in an arts and crafts studio in Bad Tölz sometime in the late 1960s.
The American army base there (in one incarnation) where she was stationed had been converted into a shopping centre with Freibad (public spa) when I investigated a few years ago, and a lot of the trappings of an American military presence still seemed fresh. I bet the CIA outpost from Cold War times survived that round of closures.
  Speaking of another extensive collection, we spent nearly twenty minutes this morning setting back the all the clocks for European Standard Time.  The time change that hastens in the dawn and chases away the sun earlier and earlier in the afternoon happens a week prior to the to recalibration in the States.

Friday, 28 October 2011


I thought that developments that significantly redress God and Country might be headline news and not just for the governors of the sixteen Commonwealth Realms (The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGM, which sounds an awfully lot like the Spacing Guild of Dune, The Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles, CHOAM) that share the British monarch as their head-of-state have together acceded to radically reform laws concerning Royal Succession at a summit in Australia. Deference to males is removed, so the eldest child, whether a boy or a girl, becomes the heir-apparent (absolute primogeniture), which seems like a very reasonable and forward-thinking thing to do to our modern minds but I believe, like the BBC reporting puts it, that our point-of-view masks the real comprehensive (three centuries of the past, present and future) perspective and impact it has. Perhaps equally as sweeping is the change that would allow the monarch and members of the royal family to marry Catholics--though as Supreme Head of the Church of England, the monarch himself is necessarily Anglican. It strikes me as impossible to get one's head around the lifting of this restriction without delving through all the revolts and revolutions of history. Had the Act of Settlement of 1701 never come into force, as the Daily Mail speculates, and all other things being the same (which is deliciously unlikely), then the UK's current ruler would have been Franz, Duke of Bavaria.  The Queen, looking forward to her Diamond Jubilee, suggested these reforms be entertained and has certainly added something more to her considerable legacy.

marco, polo

Through the lens of history and particular Weltanschauung that has kept relations between China and much of the Western world at an awkward age--not really maturing beyond mystique and fear and trade that seemed to erupt like spontaneous generation until the 1970s, this outreach of munificence--offers to buoy up the image and reputation of the euro and the EU--is difficult to put into context. I don't believe fears of quid pro quo and other obligations are entirely valid, because it is in China's best interest to sustain its biggest export market, and prior trade deals and wonky, uncomfortable balances of exchange or supersaturation of markets, cheap and laxer labour seemingly popped into existence from nothing, overnight, for America and took on threatening airs, which were probably unjustified. The EU is not under new-management and is a far sight less beholden, financially and politically, to Chinese vehicles of recapitalization than it would be to the sacrifice, the martyred attitude, of local big banks and their minders. Just as it only takes the gentlest of persuasions to set off one's latent xenophobia, as with questions of immigration and multiculturalism, stories of Chinese investors buying up vineyards in Bordeaux or copying Austrian villages on the sly I am sure are enflaming and raise suspicions.
Investment opportunities surely can be sour and toxic things, but Europeans, though they should never stop watching their governments, are not ransoming their principles on this nor compromising their voice in trade relations, jobs, the environment or human rights. Maybe Chinese intervention was not absolutely necessary and only leaves the EU with the bigger challenge of not letting a bailout enable more of the same sloppy behaviour, but it did not come unbidden and unwelcome. With so much of the world economy built on illusion and deception, and the utility of wealth diminished the more one has of it, money at rest, when it could go to a greater good, assuaging some baseless (instead of being in hock to those fears) is a positive development.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

das telefon sagt du

Germany is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the telephone, which predates Alexander Graham Bell's famous transmission, "Mister Watson, come here--I want to see you," by a full fifteen years with Johann Phillip Reis' cryptic and surreal message via switching, galvanic wire, "The horse does not eat cucumber salad," (Das Pferd frisst keinen Gurkensalat). Reis made up this phrase on the spot during his demonstration in Friedrichsdorf by Frankfurt am Main in 1861 to prove that his first call was real and not rehearsed. Reis' experiment of course was built on the work of others that came before and in turn, the idea was improved and realized as a two-way communication device by Bell. Reis' other pioneering work included an early prototype of what would become inline roller-skates and theoretical inquiries into the possibility photovoltaic cells.


The Daily Mail's science section (which is generally engaging and delightful) reports on an enigmatic breakthrough in code- breaking, won not by brute computing, which the cipher resisted, but by more creative and computer-aided approaches and determination, including those strange word-verification, anti-Turing authenticators that apparently prove one's sentience. Computer scientists have re-visited a mysterious and inscrutable 18th century volume (the Copiale Manuscript, housed at the Berlin archives of the Akademie der Künste) from an unknown secret society and have managed to decode the first few pages, using the techniques described in the article, of the 105 page text. This preface apparently described a ritual hazing of an initiate into the mysteries of this Freemason-like order. It is not clear whether the order was occult or alchemic or something else. I am not sure either about what goes into the process of decoding, but it is interesting to speculate on the linguistic mysteries that might be revealed or secrets disclosed by building on this technique, and I do wonder why the rest of the text did not just unfold with the decoding of the initial pages. It turns out that some old ciphers are believed to be red-herrings, that the message is not in the surface text but in microprinting in the marginalia or coded deeper in every third or fourth letter or only revealed through coloured-lenses.  Maybe the tract will prove not so willing to divulge all its secrets.

geldpolitik or punch & judy

A few voices, weary of demi-solutions that because of self-interest no one is willing to meet half-way, continual scolding and talk whose length is outstripping modern patience and sensibilities, have raised a disturbing spectre of concern, which, I think, is forgetting the spirit of an experiment that strives for cooperation and integration without surrendering identity or sovereignty: some European Union members that have been made to feel on the periphery or only marginally engaged have expressed fear about the EU becoming enfeoffed (belehnte), paying tribute to a new Napoleonic marauding or Holy and Roman Empire of the Germans--or something more sinister.
Those fears and the United Kingdom's dour divisiveness are of course allowed but are not helpful and probably only stoke the power of the real beneficiaries of that tribute that will be paid to the banks and financial institutions. Money managers of course play an important role in remediation and recovery (or delay and dalliance) but they should not be ceded powers they do not have. Banks are like any other utility, regulated and often owned by the State, like plumbing and power-grids, and nothing more--though they've grown beyond pipes and a series of tubes, like wireless communication service providers and social networking platforms, into something that we are beholden to and tyrannized by. The EU is limited in the paths that it can sound, and that is probably a very mature and responsible thing for all parties--like it won't print more euro or tolerate laggards too well--but the solvency of big banks should not obscure real marketplace choices and resolution.

Monday, 24 October 2011

decoder ring or mnemonic spelunking

My brain is still a little addled and turning somersaults over some of the techniques and demonstrable, learnable talent of the imagination and memory described in Moonwalking with Einstein. One of the more intuitive and prêt-a-porter tricks, hacks invoked the Phonetic Major System, developed by Basque sixteenth century polymath and educator Pierre Hérgony, for making strings of numbers more memorable.

Most minds, irrespective of attention span, can only be induced to hold only about seven digits in the short-term memory--because recall of words, direction and other impressions take precedence, but using the Major System (as a guide: it all may seem a little silly to turn numbers into personalities and colourful metaphors when Handys and sticky notes do a fairly good job, but this or one's own associations do become snared in the mind), one can transform an often referenced but never remembered number, like the stubborn IP address of a network printer that is forever needing to be re-mapped, into a more remarkable phrase and image.
Using the technique prescribed (or whatever system and scheme makes sense) of turning consonants into numbers, leaving vowels, w, y, and h as interstitials, one turns an eleven digit number into a "MeSH VoTeR MaPpinG a BuN." Having a subject, a verb and an object (SVO oder Subjekt-Objekt-Verb auf die deutsche Sprache) makes the image even more catchy, though not necessarily graceful or poetic. The Major System, requiring no additional training or meditation, seems to work but I wonder if it is the number, the image or the system itself one remembers--or is it all three?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

inked or plastisol billboards

Unfortunately, with the golden autumn days dwindling in Germany, it is no longer t-shirt weather, but I know that elsewhere, in areas less prone to seasonal superlatives, there is still ample chance to don one’s favourite funny, subtle and artistic wearable statements. Some of my favourite creative factories are Last Exit to Nowhere with corporate logos that only exist in cinema classics and Threadless, whose collection of artists produce consistently fun designs that are voted into print by customers.
Those and many other produce designs that are instantly recognizable, though with each, one would probably be the only kid on the block sporting it.

jolly roger or goonies r good enough

For another spooky Halloween tale (and perhaps less theologically challenged than the last, or perhaps not) is the curious story of Hanseatic privateer turned pirate, Klaus Störtebeker, is circulating the internet (first appearing to me via the fantastic and phantasmagorical Atlas Obscura), and having never heard of this episode before, I did some research and discovered that it is not just a scary, friend-of-a-friend urban legend ghost story, the beheaded pirate most remembered for the not unremarkable feet of lurching some twelve paces through the gallows after he had been decapitated, but a fascinating history and a tale of a man elevated to folk-hero.
Störtebeker, almost certainly not his real name but probably a pirate nom de guerre since it means something like to drink down the cup in one gulp, originally helped keep supplies flowing safely between ports of the Hanseatic League during conflicts with Sweden and Denmark, but once his services were no longer needed, and attributably out of a sense of justice to distribute the wealth among his band of conspirators and the common land-lubbers who suffered under the monopoly of the guilds, he turned pirate himself. After some years of conquests, Störtebeker and his crew were eventually captured and condemned to death around the year 1400, after failing to commute their sentences with fantastic offers of plunder, by the senate in Hamburg. Störtebeker’s ghoulish theatrics in the gallows, walking without his head, was more than just sheer resistance (I had never heard of this story and it reminded me of that often repeated episode of a maiden, after being accused of witchcraft and about to be burned at the stake, eating as much gun-power as she could stomach to take the whole audience and inquisition with her) but he plead for a deal with the jury: first to be executed, Störtebeker pledged that he would walk away afterwards and that all the members of his crew that he passed ought to be spared. He passed a line-up of eleven or twelve of the men and might have gone on to save them all, if he had not been tripped, as some say. When this amazing feat came to pass, the judges decided not to uphold their end of the bargain and had all seventy or so of his men executed anyway. I imagine that that cursed Hamburg for all time, eventually leading to the League’s dissolution. Incidentally, the judge asked the executioner afterwards if he wasn’t tired from all that work. The executioner boasted that he was not worn out at all and could still take on the entire senate, if need be, and for that, the executioner was put to death too.

artistic license or don’t mess with the jesus

I took an afternoon walk to the neighbouring village and explored the old churchyard to find a creepy and unsettling sculpture just in time for Halloween. This large bronze figure dominated the entrance to the cemetery and featured a detailed skeletal figure that was inverted, like it had fallen from the cross and was hanging, upside down. Click on the images to see the features, which are a little washed out from the darker exposure in miniature.
The tablet to the side reads "Death has no more power." A lot of variations on a theme are out there, displaying craftsmanship and commissions for public art in good faith but there is something a bit disconcerting in such a departure from the traditional, whose symbolism is inscrutable and yet no parody and only piety and memento mori is intended. The image and the wonder haunted me the whole way home.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

retronautics institute

I stumbled across this fantastic web-site called Retronaut that features a lively and active almagest through the past decades with collections of vintage photography, advertising ephemera, and artwork (although I later realized that their work as curators has been embedded in a lot of other sites I visit).
The web-site has amazing exhibits of early colour photography of New York, London and Moscow, 1960s fashion-shows, future-perfect visions of the colonization of outer space, Hong Kong public housing, and celebrities posing with their record collection. Check out the extensive and daisy-chained catalogue for yourselves.

Friday, 21 October 2011

priorität or listening-tax

I suppose that in the midst of everything else that is happening the business of legislation and upholding the rule of law must go on, but I found this item being entertained by a few members of America’s Congress to be backwardly-visionary: law-makers want to make it a felony to perform and share (primarily via the largest video repository of the internet) cover-songs. Violators could face prison-time for lip-syncing, sampling, karaoke, or otherwise playing copywritten music, regardless of the venue or platform’s policies or whether the rendition is talented or not. A group has rallied to stop this proposal, championing the alternative-history cause of one young vocal artist, who happened to be discovered singing cover ballads in just the manner they propose to outlaw, and portray the young performer as unjustly incarcerated in this bizzaro, future dystopia. It is easy to guess the instigators behind this bill (and its natural extensions) but at the same time hard to reconcile the cognitive dissonance behind an industry that would want to stifle creative experimentation and fame-making in its future associates.

viennese waltz or ballroom blitz


The negative attention plied and mounting on the European Union and imminent crisis talks, replete with rumour and grandstanding and loggerheads, is striking me as a very sort of Zen/Non-Zen exercise. There is an imponderable quality to the debate, that the raining down of economic doom, has levied undue focus on these otherwise normal and healthy proceedings. The European clubhouse, founded primarily on hope, understanding and cooperation but also maybe cynically on the guilt of Germany and the opportunism of others (and the constituent parts were never, it seems, painted with so much contrast when there were borders), is holding deliberations among its treasurer, secretary and president. If this was happening with a less scrutinous watch, would there be so much noise? Of course what happens matters, especially when it could affect the timbre of politics, social support, peace and self-determination, yoked or not to an indenturing debt, but other major economies have also collapsed under the weight of their own greed and surfaced (not recovered) none the wiser, unlike Europe who has already made regulations more transparent and more robust in order to reemerge again, stronger and more secure.
There is no easy or obvious answer to these challenges, but nor is there a wrong decision that cannot be overcome. The most-watched designations are overgenerous and meaningless, and Triple A-Alpha-Ailm-Aleph-Double-Plus-Super-Thanks, I'm sure will settle to a new baseline.  There is something horrible and vicious about an academic exercise, a zero-sum-game--something that claws its way back to equilibrium--that seems very Non-Zen but also a little bit reassuring that affairs will adjust and right themselves, and that the core of a place, buildings, streets and communities can be much older and essentially more durable than their latest ascribing armour--city, nation, state.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

true colours or womp rat

Despite all the active dismissal and disengagement by most of the media, the occupation movement continues and has spread far to Tatooine and Hoth (Antarctica). These occupiers have a story to tell, which might be best conveyed without the scrim and arras of reputed anarchy and homogeneity that the movement’s detractors are peddling.
People are upset at the sight of their futures eroding without being afforded the same protections as the perpetrators, and that that this diverse group camped out at Wall Street would join in says a lot, considering all the exaggerated heights that public defendors claim that we have to fall.

gedenkend or franklin mint

The illimitable Boing Boing featured a sleek presentation of the obverse of vintage (1896) US dollar bills and silver certificates, which bear glorious allegories of the achievements of Electricity, Material Science, and the Promise of Youth, personified, instead of the familiar, relatively stodgier architecture or distant heads-of-state. Though not exactly fiat currency, it did make me reflect on the tokens and mementos that I have collected that I have collected that commemorates the same accomplishments of progress—like this piece of Polish majolica that celebrates twenty-five years of being on the grid or this French medallion of the electrification of the country, with this mythological character, looking like Calibos from Clash of the Titans illuminated by an oil lamp.
These are feats to be proud of.  In a similar vein, I was thinking about the military unit coins that I’ve been presented and wondered if there was such occasion, venue for symbolism and artistic expression elsewhere, or if trophies and icons and cash-money were things relegated to grandfathered traditions.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Der Spielgel reports on the efforts of the Central Institute for Art History in Munich to bring to the public for the first time catalogue images of the series of decorative arts showcases, "Great Germany Art Exhibitions" from 1937 to 1944, that tried to impart the Third Reich’s aesthetic ideal, with paintings and contemporary furniture designs that reflected the best of distilled nationalism. The series of photographs (the full catalogues will be available online at GDK Research) are insightful and telling of the exodus of German talent and of the strictures of patrotic interior decorating. Der Führer, who was rejected as an aspiring art student, was the ultimate juror in deciding what pieces were representative and, it seems, one of the showcase's best customers.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

ms havisham, i presume

Did you know that a major portion of the economies of some of the smallest sovereign nations in the world, remote Pacific islands like Nauru and Vanuatu, comes in the form of diplomatic aid, gained by swapping allegiance?
Their ambassadors and ministries of state will recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan) over the Peoples' Republic of China in exchange for monetary support and then later flip their position--also for some of the disputed regions under the Russian aegis. Who knew diplomacy could be transparently profitable? The coalition of the willing that took part in the American-lead invasion of Iraq of 2003 was certainly never as extensive as the catalogue of ships that stormed the beaches at Troy in the Iliad, and this kind of diplomatic pandering rings with about the same tinny, hollow sound of credit awarded for a show of support.
I hope that the idea of appealing to one nation’s vanities, beggaring one’s rivals and problem-children, does not catch on. Pinky and the Brain of Warner Brothers' Animaniacs tried those stunts already to try to raise capital for their plans of world domination, and it is strange to see reality reflect this appeal. I am afraid, once all the pretend hue and cry of the euro and EU settles and without Cablegate, the United States, place-holder for world-dominance, might try such things while ignoring the management of its downfall. In general, superlatives are not the most auspicious things, but just as the best that the EU hoped for from Greece was a orderly bankruptcy, the US ought to acknowledge its standing and make contingency plans, as no amount of pandering diplomacy could make up the difference.

Monday, 17 October 2011

omicron, omega

Did you know that the Greek letters omicron and omega just mean little-o, big-o respectively? Euro notes and coins bear both Latin and Greek script, which I believe is a piquing reminder of the mutual glossing that may have been behind the monetary union. Since the Maastricht Treaty, no one wanted to exclude any established members of the old or new Europe, regardless of the maturity of their economies and markets, and I do not believe that Greece and other nations unilaterally covered-up their fiscal health and talked their way into membership.
I am sure that to a large extent, against warnings of economists and analysts that saw at the time weaknesses, hyperbole and litotes, that such obstacles were overlooked towards the formation of a more perfect union, and not a German or a French hegemony or a north, south schism. It parallels the lesson unlearned with the economic collapse fuelled by the housing bubble, which with exuberance oversold the properties market to all and sundry on the hopes that value would keep increasing. I have great hopes for the euro and the ideas behind it still--including the absolute solvency of each country’s financial systems without respect for outside shaming and subjective ratings, should it not lead to overarching micro-management of each country’s affairs or usher in conservative governments that undo the social and equitable fabric of its constituents, but I do think that one aspect that this vision elided over was that of competition and customers. Within a bloc of currency, it is hard for one country, maintaining its standard of living and government support, to compete with another, more advanced in manufacturing. It is that competitiveness that will lead to recovery and growth, and not an outsider's idea of discipline or scope of government responsibility.  The average shopper, I do not think, would forgo price or quality (or his or her own sense of protectionism) to seek out Greek, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese goods to fan their solidarity. The money-changers (nummularium) did a brisk business across borders, as well, and within Europe, we are our own best trading-partners.

hungry hill

There was a sort of inaccessible quality of tragic beauty to western County Cork, which became, like other places we have visited in Ireland, more defined with study and background. Adrigole, though, at the foot of the Healy Pass and the summits of Sugar Loaf and Hungry Hill (made famous by the Daphne du Maurier novel, who also penned what became Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds), had an especially poignant—but not unique sadly as we had also stayed in Leenane, County Galway, where The Field was set—history that we got to know that added to the experience of visiting. Adrigole (Irish, Eadargóil) stretched out over ten kilometres, hugging the distinctive coastline of the Beara Peninsula, and is a peaceful and serene place, though it was once a boom town, before being decimated by the Famine (Hungersnot), immigration and the copper mining industry going bust and the robber-barons leaving the area.
There was evidence of this livlier past, and also of more ancient oppressions, like the ruins of Catholic churches that were hidden in the mountains when worship was persecuted by the Church of England. The place was warm and inviting, and certainly did not feel empty or like a ghost town, but knowing this history enhanced our time there.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

mnemotechny or counting sheep

In the quiet evenings after our daily adventures in Ireland--much more to come in following episodes, I read the very memorable and inspiring "Moonwalking with Einstein" by Slate writer Joshua Foer (Penguin Books, 2011). In a sense, right after I had checked this volume out from the library, the anticipation of reading it had my thoughts roving to the old James Burke BBC series Connections and the Day the Universe Changed and the installments that addressed memories, specifically the mental constructs of utilized by the ancients and story-tellers of long ago of palaces or cathedrals as cues for memorizing and understanding.
Revisiting those riveting techniques and then recalling passages from Plato about the hazards of the written (uncommitted) word, printed on a page but not imprinted elsewhere and making memory something external was a little bit revolutionary for me, in the retelling. The author’s coverage of participatory journalism that made him the architect and landlord of many memory palaces really highlighted the extent to which we have made our memories something outside of us, relying on the internet, digital photographs, and even surrendered to GPS when one of the things that humans are innately good at is navigation and spatial awareness, and thus in a time where memorization is frowned upon and seen as demeaning, punishment, how much practice really can perfect and lead to expertise. Our minds are really capable of incredible things and we may be too quick to fault them or resort to the latest crutch.  After all, what innovation comes without a jolt and a hook from what came before. I fully intend to investigate this, but don't take my word for it... Speaking of the memorable and what creatures might people your own memory palaces, last time we were in Ireland, we noticed that neighbouring sheepfolds had begun tagging their flock with spray paint, usually a green, red or blue dot. This time, however, there was a splendid group that appeared nearly tie-dyed.

Friday, 7 October 2011

korkenzieher or exonymy

I remember when I was little, I had a light and fluffy block of cork wood that I thought was a very rare and exotic thing as part of a larger collection of stones, fossils and pieces of petrified wood. It was eaten with wormholes, and I think I only tried once floating it in the bathtub. Such an unusual grove must have its origins with the Irish second-city of the same name, I was convinced.

Of course, since then I learned that the cork oak is mostly cultivated in Portugal and the city is derived from the Irish Corcaigh for marshland and that wine corks are mostly plastic or rubber anymore--which is nice to a certain extent since one need not be as practiced at uncorking a bottle because the rubber stopper is not brittle and won't break apart into the bottle, but we did notice this unsung and ingenious hybrid that has a bit of plastic as a catchment for a tradition, fragile cork. It's strange how exonyms and making aboriginal place names sensible to foreign ears--or those of settlers to natives--can result in some creative folk etymology. The German (and of course Germany for Deutschland is one of the more prevalent exonyms and an invention of Julius Caesar) town of Pforzheim, for instance, is called so as a reduction, simplification of the Roman designation of Porta Hercynia, gateway to the ancient pan-European forest that remains as the Black Forest (der Schwarzwald) into modern times. Even a place named something seemingly straightforward, like Schweinfurt, having evolved from Suinurde (maybe meaning "man's land" or "divided land", connotes nothing about a place where pigs can cross the Main river. Such backformations have surprising and triangulated origins.

flory and fitchy or cross moline

The adult daughter of our neighbor has recently returned home to care for her mother and seeing to the considerable undertaking of getting her mother's household in order. The upper suite of rooms are beginning to look more livable and lived-in, and one afternoon, what I first thought was a Saint Stephan's or Patriarchal Cross, appeared in the window--almost like it was taped on. Another neighbour though it was the same thing, although he said it looked like a Saint Andrew's--which actually is the x-shaped one. Later, I was assured it was a bathroom shelf--but I wondered if it might be a sort of scarecrow--something to ward off the heathens whose terrace is just off their house.

I thought the daughter certainly did not want to get in a Cross Battle royale with us. I knew of the variations on cruciform symbols and a little bit about their associated lore and meaning, but I always thought that that the holy magazine was more like an armoury, gruesome and violent, like a museum of archery or spears, and ultimately telling of how saints were posed when martyred. I had not beforehand really associated the different symbols with the language of heraldry, like floried and fitched, reduced to ornaments but originally describing a cross with staves and stakes that could be fixed in the ground. The colourful and exacting terminology of charges, seals and coats-of-arms (Wappen) is a constant and unchanging thing, because there was no means to visually communicate the right tinctures and proportions of how a symbol should look without faithfully reproducing it in the first place. It's funny how a casual and accidental arranging can impart the same sort of associations.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

ghost run

Not only does Atlas Obscura deliver postcards from the world's curious and esoteric locales, they also have a pretty nifty blog, which is celebrating thirty-one days of Halloween by featuring its creepiest and most haunting places. It is ghoulish--especially the tales of catacombs that ring of urban legend and highlighting the other consecrated sites that have a reciprocal relationship, a ceded and imparted spell-binding, with their visitors--and certainly worth investigating for raising holiday spirits.


I consider myself fortunate to be of an age where my first exposure to computers was mediated by film (War Games, Ferris Buhler, TRON) and then in the classroom and was not prejudiced with the idea that off-line, a computer was not much use or conditioned to necessarily conform questions and answers the way programmers wanted them phrased. I remember in grade school, in Mister K-'s computer science class sitting with others at a bank of Apple IIE computers, writing simple programs but learning that one can set the rules and parameters—and not just cosmetically. I was never a serious programmer but I did pursue that as a hobby later on, and later on I can remember being enamoured with the range of sound-effects (and the graphics) that Apple computers were capable of when we used them to publish a student newspaper and yearbooks in journalism class. In addition to the genius and accessibility that Steve Jobs (EN/DE) brought to the world, we owe a great debt of gratitude to his unwavering vision of an interface that is determined by the user, aesthetic and functional and serving up the intangibles of electronic-data in a way that allows people a coordinated creativity and to accessorize. I have never felt that an Apple’s full potential went unrealized, a victim of some systemic fault or jingoistic jargon that a non-native could ever hope to penetrate (not discounting the real and valuable contributions of other innovators)--and do feel a great compunction to become smarter, not for the sake of better navigation and to become more attuned with the computers, so that the next generation's convergent evolution has something to greet and not only strive to make a better extension, a wetsuit, a pseudopod that encourages more virtual living rather than participating in limning all landscapes. I want to thank the team that Jobs brought together for this vision and freedom and I feel confident that his inspiration will go on.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

whack fol de turalura ladie, whack fol de turalureley

You can see Dublin City and the fine groves of Blarney,

The Baun, Boyne, and Liffey, and the lakes of Killarney,
You can ride on the tide o'er the broad Majestic Shannon,
You can sail round Loch Neagh and see storied Dungannon.
Will you come, will you, will you, will you come to the bower?

PfRC will be will be taking a short hiatus, while we take are engaged with adventures in one of our favourite destinations--Ireland.  In the past we have enjoyed exploring the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry, seen the savage beauty of Connemara, and this time we will be traveling to County Cork to visit Bantry Bay and the Ring of Beara on the southernmost peninsula. 
I am very excited--and surely all the while narrate our doings to the tune of the Edmund Fitzgerald or some other forgiving Irish folk song--and be sure to check back with our little travel blog for updates. 

speakeasy or agent 99

Another criticism of the groups gathered in cities across the United States to protest the culture of kleptocracy and loss of meaningful government advocacy is that the 99th percentile is mostly represented by the technocrati, and not the working poor and families overcome by want. I think that is an unfair characterization and implies that computer geeks and more subversive hacktavists have the luxury and leisure to groan about the state of the economy. Despite all the barbs traded over whether or not this rally needs clearer direction and what is glaringly obvious or otherwise, this movement still needed a catalyst and broad support that's not the piggy-backing that will be ultimately levied against the protesters by critics. With the timing of legislation that would aggravate trade-sanctions and diminish US stature further, the protests will be blamed for frustrating the elusive recovery, whose main measure is jobs though productivity is rather lost in credit and liquidity and improved savings--now called hording. The high-visibility media will do all it can to disparage these growing protests as clashes accelerate into theatre and grand-distraction, but beyond awareness, I think these occupations will secure more protections for the average worker, regardless of background, that have gone all out of balance in favour of profit and gain at any other cost.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


While I do not believe that the American people are an apathetic lot, I do believe there has been an institutionalization of the mechanisms that rob people's appetite for protest and a general swath of demotivation.

That said, I do not want to lose hope for the sit-ins going on across the country (EN/DE)--although the same dismissive mechanisms are certainly a extinguishing factor. There has been violence, police brutality, kettling, and worse yet either total disregard by the media or a high moralizing tone: most reporting comes through the lens of British journalism whose civil unrest, in the eye of the public, went from student tuition rallies to rioting and destruction--though Britain's protesters are more experienced with kettling and entrapment, and those you do deign to notice these unwashed masses take a paternal tone. Calling the movement unfocussed and without specific demands, some commentators sigh with regret that such behaviour is unbecoming and does not seem like promising deportment for a generation struggling with unemployment and staying the course in higher education. Editors might as well throw in the over-sold dream of home ownership for all and just compound the frustrations of the organizers and occupiers: the problems are so big and systemic that anyone could intuit them, without further explanation. It is ironic that this has become more scolding about responsibility, when the apex of success in money-matters is portrayed by the cavalier day-trader who beats the trends and bets against his better interests and patience. No one is dissecting this short-fused punchline, and the protesters are not drop-outs but are rather trying to make the rules more inclusive.

Monday, 3 October 2011


A year ago, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Reunification of Germany (Tag der Deutsche Einheit, die Wende) local artists installed an exhibition in a nearby community. Unfortunately, we never got around to seeing the display last Autumn, but taking advantage of the empty roads during for what is for most a holiday afternoon, I took a round-about route home and happened on this Blue Gate framing a religious sculpture, the only piece remaining of the art work commissioned to commemorate German unity.
Like a Japanese torii, the blue glass structure is very striking against the field, and I believe symbolizes a passageway through the Wall (die Mauer) and the Bildstock, the religious waypost, inside, I think, represents the historical context of Germany that transcends division. I think it was pretty neat to find this just today, especially after taking time earlier to read up on the events of this day—how opinion was not as homogenous as remembered or portrayed: Britain under Thatcher and France under Mitterrand were opposed to reunification, and demanded at the very least a five year probationary period, the Soviets surprised everyone by allowing Germany to choose its own destiny with minimal interference, and Bush was laudatory (I think that was the only version I was privy to) but with the forceful proviso that Germany remain in NATO, even though an overwhelming majority of Germans saw the reunification as the chance for further demilitarization and to claim neutrality. The course of human events is not usually an affair to be compartmentalized and the spoils of history admit to interpretation, like the art that captures a glimpse of it.

revolution number nine

I suppose an individual's definition of freedom (as in the same insurrectionists being called both rebels and freedom-fighters) can be as varied as one's definition of vanity. Visitor-counters, like philately or Ken Jennings' brilliant Slate article about how Wanderlust and country-collecting have turned into a highly-competitive pastime for those with the means, are rather vain things--since one's sponsors track this data already to a fault--but the service that I adopted before I realized that the same features were already built into Blogger is reliable and endearing, and Flag Counter made me smile yesterday when I saw that our latest, newest visitor was from liberated Libya--represented by the new flag of the caretaker government. Maybe the visit was for something completely random and unhindered image-searches was only among the least of freedoms tenaciously fought for. I am very happy for their achievement, nonetheless, and all the small and grand victories of the Arab Spring--and hope that it's catching. Given the opportunity, I would have visited those countries in person before the revolution but now, with the chance to support the new leadership, one has even more reason to go.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


No place has a monopoly on greed, corruption and bribery, and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) has been doing important work to expose the lobbyists in Brussels and how business motives translate to political agendas within the European Union. The organization has compiled an extensive list of the ties that bind, available for downloading on their site, in addition to all the other reporting they do on influence-peddling. Such work is vital, I think, because there is a gentrification and formalization in the culture of corruption and the EU, which further shields those courtiers from the press and public backlash.

wallet inspector or nickel-and-dimed

Rarely I think new policies are introduced without calculated unpopularity, and I think that this is the case with the announcement of one of the biggest banks of America (recursively named) that it will begin charging its customers a nominal monthly convenience fee for using their point of sale debit cards.

All the outrage and resentment that have been generated over this relatively harmless move might be the final straw that causes the public to move their money and quit enabling these too-big-to-fail. If such a mildly unsettling PR failure can bring about revolution, then I am happy for it, but I think the message was instead designed to make the public at large forget about all their past transgressions and focus on this new tangible and across the board policy: never mind all the billions in tax-payer bailout assistance, predatory loans, aggressive and faulty repossessions, casually firing tens of thousands from its own workforce, being generally unrepentant about abetting the whole global financial , and now they have the nerve to nickel-and-dime people for the privilege of using their own money (merchants already pay a premium for renting debt-card machines), which the banks profit from by holding it. I think it will backfire.  One would do better to always use cash: all those electronic trillions in sovereign debt and corporate assets the world around could not fit physically fit into all the bank vaults of the world, if this trend snowballs and that’s quite something for cash-on-hand.