Thursday, 31 March 2011

penny-ante or tin-roof rusted

Huffington Post contributor and Former Assistant Secretary and Spokesperson for the US State Department P. J. Crowley, who resigned on principle over the shadowy incarceration of font of embarrassment and entrapment, has an excellent and thoughtful entry regarding the disposition of super-powers for a super-power without an operational government.

Whatever compromised is reached with the current quibbling certainly does not yield a balanced budget or new fiscal and monetary policies that will promote solvency and sustainability, however, cuts would remove America's ability to go questing and peddle influence through foreign aid. NATO and the UN can and probably should assume a leading role in peace-keeping, with the checks and balances of an international framework, but just as neither NATO nor any other organization can take over the administration of federal aid programs for the US, one has to wonder, what influences are filling that void in foreign policy. It may be positive or profoundly negative. Maybe the International Red Cross or the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta will never be expected to make sure American federal judges, national guardsmen and national park rangers receive their pay-checks, but the dysfunction (and bargaining that might wrest defeat from the clutches of victory) and indecision in serving its citizens and promoting the general welfare--for which no politic animals are accomplished experts, it seems--makes its emissaries suspect.  Money, after all, is not the measure of all things--including statecraft, and is a rather a tenuous shared delusion, opposed to health, well-being and dignity, and a grand unequalizer.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

in the meantime, in between time, ain't we got fun?

The newest, latent source of worry--though it is hard to tell from the volume of the shouting, is the threat of a US federal government budget impasse. Despite all the suspense dates, reporting requirements, fiat debt-ceilings and endless bureaucracies in place, this body of lawmakers has ignored its own rules, and failing to agree on a fiscal budget, has funded day-to-day operations through a series of so-called "continuing resolutions," an allowance every two or three weeks of a few billion dollars. If no compromise on funding is reached very soon, then the US government will be forced to suspend operations--selectively--or risk defaulting on its obligations--that is, paying dividends on bond-issues, their debt held by foreign governments, outstanding contracts to private business, and social services. I can remember the Government Shutdown of 1995-1996, as I was living near the Washington, DC area and I remember making the trek up there by public-transportation--which always seemed impossibly difficult, but on returning recently for my college reunion, I realized that those distances that seemed so insurmountable and bothersome were greatly diminished--to see a special exhibit at the National Gallery.

Of course, the museums were closed due to the budget crisis (precipitated by the current president's infidelity) and a massive snowball fight ensued on the Mall. This time, the perspective is a bit different: one side claims the other is too willing to pare down social programs too far, saying that they would force such a stand-off in order to eradicate the vestiges of health-care reform. Maybe one side is certain that recipients of US government welfare programs, patrons of federal institutions or services, is restricted to the other side and believe ending such programs would not adversely affect their base. Attempting reform through such jarring methods, however, is not so well thought out. Furloughing all the hundreds of thousands of citizen and soldier employees of the Ministry of Truth, over and above the loss of support services, will cause that economy to crumple at light-speed with loss of purchasing-power, missed payments, tight credit, and an already fragile economy whose jobless recovery was being sustained by government-staffers in the first place. A few days' worth of late installment-payments and deferred spending will be tormenting, however contained, and will quickly creep to the world's markets.

They won't smash up our Pierce Arrow,
We ain't got none
They've cut my wages
But my income tax will be so much smaller
When I'm paid off,
I'll be laid off
Ain't we got fun?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

betrügerisch or we are unanimous, we are legion

A politician from Germany’s Green Party, whose success in recent state-elections certainly has more to do with such long-standing insults as described and corporate steam-rolling autocracy rather than reactionary fears over atomic energy from just yesterday, presents a marvelous and disturbing expose (auf Englisch) on the dastardly ways that big business has at its disposal for keeping tabs on anyone, and introduces it with the prescient words of Kraftwerk’s Computerwelt.

In order to highlight how a person’s day-to-day activities could be easily triangulated to limn a more than complete picture of one’s movements, dealings and interests and what repercussions changes in data retention rules (Vorratsdatenspeicherung) could have. After winning a lawsuit again the telecommunications firm that warehouses such logs, the politician made these records, six months' worth, available to Die Zeit. Gadgetry should not present the consumer a conundrum between convenence, functionality and being spied upon. Technology does not advance solely as fodder for marketers or advertising space. A second article (auf Deutsch) in the series is also quite an interesting read, addressing not only the trade-off but what is so willing offered up as incriminating evidence.

Monday, 28 March 2011

meritocracy or redirected from micro-publishing

Though the temptation was not so easily accessible back in my college days, no one has ever been able to explain to me the academic prejudice against Wikipedia, albeit relaxed somewhat recently. Specialists always have hegemony in their respective domains, and it is as if it were fear for an oligarchy of nerds or fans (there must be a Greco-phone word for government by freaks and geeks)—however benevolent or enlightened—or a turning-away from knowledgeable and vetted sources.
Nonetheless, Wikipedia has persevered, growing both as an institution and a community. I had missed this feature before, but opening up the menus in the marginalia, one is treated to all sorts of undaunted scholarly applications, like Book Creator.
The umbrella-topic structure of Wikipedia articles, strung along in a daisy-chain for reference,
I believe would be perfectly suited to drafting a study-aid or especially to supplement a travel-guide, something a bit more in depth that branches out, like a Choose your own Adventure book but within a framework and not as boundless as the open internet. One’s handiwork can be saved and formatted in a variety of ways, and then e-mailed for distribution. With just a few extra steps, one’s books can be viewed and saved on any tablet device, ready to be quoted, reworked and re-imagined.  It would nicely personalize one's vacation itinerary, modularity, and saving the discovery for the trip and not the exhausted invention of the research and planning. 

Sunday, 27 March 2011

democritus or up-and-atom

Watching the developments and set-backs in containing the fall-out from the nuclear reactors in Japan, I remembered an article from a thoughtful website turned book from 2006, “This is not a Place of Honor,” about a campaign for the long now, to ensure that future generations ten-thousand years and more from today would know to avoid the nuclear waste dumps of the present—like the site that was being proposed at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Considering human curiosity and the capacity to poke around in dangerous places, how could caretakers of the present communicate risk when all contemporary symbols and speech may fail?
The commission concluded that all conceivable warnings and barriers, including a spiky, alien wasteland on the perimeter, might have the opposite effect and entice visitors to the temples of our household atomics. Whether be it waste that was not sufficiently planned for or an uncontrolled disaster, harnessing nuclear energy has enduring consequences that are projected in the impossibly distant future, for which no auditor or insurance adjustor has actuary tables. A recent and equally philosophical post, vis-à-vis Chernobyl--or the Chernobyl solution of entombment, remembering that the Soviets sometimes staunched oil leaks with small nuclear explosions, explores how lands made unholy through nuclear disasters can be corralled off from the population. What wandering, post-apocalyptic tribe, after all, would not be eager to occupy grounds bereft of competition and sacred to the atomic-age gods? The sources cited even suggest that a religious order be founded to keep the tradition and forbidding knowledge alive from aeon to aeon. What if today’s sectarians and secretive organizations are ancient and forgotten warnings in the same vein?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

licht aus

Tonight, anywhere and everywhere, at 20:30 (8:30 p.m.) local time is Earth Hour (EN/DE). Switching what off one can for the hour, and then maybe considering what can stay off before turning it back on, shows support and solidarity for climate-change awareness and conservation. This is another one of those annual observances with a short turn-around time, but the lesson and intent of this symbolic act can be applied far beyond just these sixty minutes. Considering that the environmental catastrophes recently perpetrated, the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the shipwrecked nuclear industry all the thousand daily insults were all about the demand to deliver massive amounts of energy on budget—not to mention the vacillating attitudes on stability in the Middle East, perhaps this small but wide-spread sign and changing practices and habits has even more urgency.

Friday, 25 March 2011

portemonnaie or a hole in your pocket

In German it is called a Taschen- leerer--this giant wooden hand, or vide- poche--more elegantly in French--both meaning "empty pockets," and is an end-of-the-day catch-all. After stumbling across an engrossing gallery of such studies called Everyday Carry, I decided to arrange a similar still-life with wallet. I would not be brave enough, however, to contribute there, since I don't have a small gun and a big knife. Here are the daily contents of my man-purse ("little bag")--excluding the camera, of course. Compared to the cleverly presented and compact and gritty, utilitarian collections that seem like an insight, in some cases, into the quivers--not personal but rather vulnerable, somehow--of post-apocalyptic urban survivalists, my clutter and equipage seems pretty tame. Asking people around the world to turn out their pockets, a global purse dump, would be an interesting anthropological exercise.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

ego ideal or black narcissus

Though I do not believe that this an entirely fair criticism and appraisal, since there are scads of most-preferred forums and venues out there of varying quality and prominence and utility and some accords ring truer and clearer than others, I though that this analysis of one social network, one mantra was something to ruminate on. Maybe the topic only struck me--caught my attention because I have such predilections that I'd prefer not to highlight, save here, though probably readily apparent everywhere else. Maybe the creative urge, to publish, to politic or to ponificate, has been sublimated into the evanesent idea of community, though no appeal to metapsychiatry of recovery and nostagia--something undermining, devious or luddite, intended.

nokorimono ni wa fuku ga aru

Translation: Luck is in the leftovers (Glück ist in den Resten). Through all this theater and smoke and mirrors--projected fears, Japan is rebuilding and persevering, but one should not forget the scope, nebulous vagaries for future climates on a global, national and neighbourhood scale, and intensely personal in terms of loss and aplomb. Though taxed with an array of concerns, the world's thoughts are with the people of Japan. Nanakorobi yaoki. Translation: Stumbling seven times but recovering eight (Sieben mal zu stolpern jedoch zu aufstehen acht).

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

the calypso caper

It is difficult to discern what the involuntary consortium of Western powers, be they the UN, the US, NATO or some mandate or protectorate, are trying to accomplish in the Levant. They act against the vocal and tacit advice of many, including regional powers’ limited approval. To estimate the situation in Libya the same as other recent revolutions, with names spicy and colourful, may be over-simplifying and unflattering to call it imitation. America, feigning reluctance, is pushing forward and, I believe, clearing following a tragically predictable playbook. I wonder where is this war’s Curveball, the Iraq informant and agitator who fed the intelligence agencies and hawkish minds exactly what they wanted to hear. Or is there no such figure this time around, only the irresistible siren song of battle and Balkanization by dividing the region?

new metrics or libya the tattooed lady

Continuing incidents in this lead up to Spring have proved to be incommensurate with the conventional public systems of measurement and we are all being educated with new units of dread and hope and ways to gauge the appropriateness or irrationality of one's reactions. In addition to the millisievert, the gray, and the rad, conditions are described in terms of chest x-rays per hour or airport naked body scanner-equivalency. It is like speaking of budget short-falls and economic hobbling in terms of trillions of whatever denomination one chooses, as inflation's impossibly big numbers is a great equalizer--or telescoping figures of personal loss and devastation across whole regions.

At odds with these metrics, impoverished ambitions, beggaring their neighbours and sending mixed messages about thrift, restraint and dissolute decadence though money can always be found for making war, each tomahawk missile launched is equal to the average annual salaries of twelve civil servants. Such abstract connections are held up to the spectre of a forced-furlough and US government shut-down--like the low-hanging austerities threatening other nations. Given the level of control over each situation and the real risk associated with it, the response seems inverted: there is no panic and whirlwind of blame and litigiousness despite the dire conditions--the Japanese remain civil, continue to recycle their trash and in some areas what utilities remain are powered by wind-mills that weathered the earthquake and tsunami intact. In contrast, there is delineated anarchy over Tripoli with no nation wanting to take the leadership role and arguments about strategy and goals. However much divergence there is between causes and corollary, it seems that both have root in human miserliness and greed and growing demand for cheap energy.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

unwater or solvent green

Holidays by fiat are something different than awareness months. Designating a day, setting it aside, can generate understanding as well as giving one the chance to focus on a certain theme, with some needed pressure to set summits and not to allow it to be elided over. It's the same kind of tinge of regret for missing "Talk like a Pirate Day" or Pi-Approximation Day or committing some environmental heresy on Earth Day or buying festive candy when it goes on sale the day afterwards--because after all, one has been in training all year for such things. Avast ye there, aarg! The United Nations has declared a whole calendar of special days for social, cultural and environmental issues and celebrations.
This year's observance of World Water Day brings attention to urban resource management.  Nothing else is quite so plastic, varied but also forgiving and abused, profligate as a universal solvent, diluting all of our poisons and what we'd like to hide away--not to mention the floodgate, magic carpet, weather and landscape and landscaper. Eventually what we are hoping to become so rarified and impalpable does, soapy or irradiated, however, become part of the rain and the beach.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

trojan sunset

Trojan sunset, which sounds like some exotic and potent cocktail, or Delta Dawn (what’s that flower you have on, could it be a faded rose from days gone-by?) or whatever it is being called is some inscrutable name for an operation—that has been renamed the military forces of the various players (the French Opération Harmattan, the English Operation Ellamy) and called a crusade by the antagonists, and I doubt there’s even appreciable irony in it, much less some symbolic or allegorical meaning behind it. Many argue that the debates at the United Nation, on whether to violate the sovereignty of one of its members by imposing a no-fly-zone, was glacial and infuriating. Inaction, times before, allowed the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the genocide in Rwanda. It is decision that is not without sympathy and an unenvious debate, since whatever coalition, backed with whatever support, has to proceed with extreme caution.  Hopefully, the motivation is framed by a genuine desire to want to protect fledgling reform movements in the region and protect citizens potentially in harm’s way, and not bemoaning lack of engagement or invitation to participate in those emboldening rebellions. Or just another excuse to make war and raise armies, which has dangerous and scary parallels—nearly word for word, with the aggression in Iraq, which has not yet ended well, and began with enforcement, albeit more autocratically but with the eventual endorsement of the global community, to unseat a madman from power, who was also a danger to his own citizens and the broader region. It is not an easy task to surgically dissect the way dissent is playing out here, and disaffectedness is either not so well studied and established or seemingly not as universal as in the other uprisings. After leadership was tolerated or made the confidant of Western powers for so many years, distrust and aversion are not so lightly earned without suspicion. Because or despite of this intervention, however it may escalate, one hopes that peace and prosperity can return and that the conduits for dialogue and diplomacy are not shut off.

Friday, 18 March 2011

iod

Boing Boing science maven, Maggie Koerth-Baker, has a very praiseworthy article, really outstanding reporting, on the panic over radiation, which is no doubt spreading much faster than the trade-winds could carry it and is not growing more diffuse, answering questions about what precautions could be taken and what's counterproductive. In the face of all this alarm, run on salt, and nonsensical pledges to stop all emanations at the border, this quality of journalism and reflection is very refreshing and informed.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

auto-archive or bait-and-switch

here is quite a bit of twitterpation about a a certain outreach initiative among the US armed-forces and the trans-national military-industrial complex called Operation Metal Gear, that is really a novel and new form of owning up to skull-duggery.
 This program is designed, ostensibly, to render formerly anonymous posts and social network activity into a form of self-incriminating libel by filling in the connections and transitions of bloggers and social-butterflies. Personnally, I became very suspicious of bookface once the US army embraced it and removed nearly all restrictions on networks for friends, though admittedly it makes it easier for many people to pretend that they are working. The operation's second, though perhaps primary, goal is to raise an army of sockpuppet (bot or spam) accounts in order to manipulate public opinion.

 Tools of propaganda and disinformation could certainly influence the shape of revolts to come and such moles, monitored and imbued with uncanny realism, could tell people what to think, and we have certainly made it a simple matter to pass the Chinese Room test. Of course the Pyramid Scheme, chain-letter, and cult indoctrination are modes that have become too labour-intensive. Whenever coming across something antiquated and therefore inaccessible--unlike most American public institution, the military is not lousy with obsolete technology, except what it was managed to horde through inaction, I wonder if ne'er-do-wells would even take the time. Perhaps such out-dated formats have become the best hiding place.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

duck and cover

The Cold War with bleak spectors of destruction and mutual mistrust was a very frightening backdrop for anyone, especially for those growing up and inheriting a standoff little understood or explained. Brave and dignified, no riots, looting or panic--though it would be OK to say one was afraid--the Japanese do not need to contend the added pressures of outside speculation. Help and prayers are there and are not to be begrudged with coaching and criticism.
There have been accidents and close calls all along, possibly from which nothing was learnt, but it was never broadcast in such a way that they are open to everyone's speculation and interpretation. I was reminded of the dreary, anachronistic film with Gregory Peck and Frank Sinatra "On the Beach," that is by far the most poignant and depressing apocalyptic movie made. Another contender for its futility is Nicholas Cage in "Knowing." On the Beach is set in a world whose atmosphere is poisoned by the nuclear fallout of World War III and the only habitatable zone is left is in Austrailia. The line, "Let this not all be in vain," is absolutely crushing and haunting. The reality for countless people is horrid enough without imagined and stagey eschatolgy, and it can be worked through, together, with a better outlook on the future.

ee-i-ee-i-o

 It is difficult to gauge what response is in line with the deteriorating nuclear situation, and how that sentiment ought to be translated to atomic energy globally. No one can say how bad it is and what, hypothetically, could happen. 

Cloudmaker II, from my office window--not among the  reactors
built before 1980 in Germany and scheduled to be taken off-line

Can energy demands be met without nuclear power and without added pollution and cost? Auditing and taking a critical look at the industry as well as fears are necessary and constructive reactions, but crisis can sometimes lead to hyperbolic thought-experiments. Jane Fonda played the heroine in the film “The China Syndrome,” which debuted amazingly less than two weeks before the disaster at the Three Mile Island power plant in Pennsylvania. The China Syndrome refers to the extreme, catastrophic case, when the pool of melted radioactive fuel burns through the containment shield and into the Earth below.
Not very reassuringly, scientists say it is impossible for a melt-down to be so hot and sustained to bore through the Earth (a hole all the way to China) or reach the Earth’s core, but soil and ground water could be harshly contaminated. I suppose the detractors for CERN’s super-collider citing its potential for creating microscopic black-holes—also not very reassuringly deemed unlikely, would have garnered more support today. There is a lot of speculation and panic and it is very hard to know what sources to trust: industry lobbyists and iodine-peddlers should probably be suspect, as well as power companies. Even though there is not a great presence on site, groups like the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should be reliable and scientific sources. German shorthand for all these super-national bodies usually includes “organization” in the abbreviated name, hence United Nations Organization as UNO or IAEA-O.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

elective-affinities or great caesar's ghost

Every moment is rich with buried news, especially at times like these when there are so other championed causes demanding attention: rebellions and reform in the Middle East and North Africa, unprecedented and frightening devastation in Japan, dirty political and corporate laundry. All this chaos is not in competition and lessons and opportunity to help abound, but resources are rarified in these on-going tumults. Events do not often have well-defined conclusions, neatly categorized and relegated to special studies and advocates, and never without ripples, ancient and disperse but still with potency. Triangulating among all the headlines and raw bursts of information can help one get bearings and better guess how these incidents interact and bear on one another on higher, resounding levels. It is maybe just as much those less nightmarish events that form a moment, non-doctrinaire. Many things are just nightmares and insurmountable traumas, and there is no discounting urgency for those things that cannot be undone, and channeling the incidental and supporting might prevent similar events, no matter how baroque with influences, from occurring again.

Monday, 14 March 2011

GAU und super-GAU

It is no doubt a critical and evolving situation in Japan and the situation can quickly slip into something far, far worse.
There is a large dose of sensationalism in the news, some merited and some bald panic, which is providing a strange pressure and counter-balance to the misery and worry. Germany, having lived with reality of the fallout from Chernobyl and dependent on nuclear power, should be prepared for dialogue and adjustments where necessary. If the disasters in Japan can inspire safer custody of the global array of atomic mills, and their by-products, or make nuclear power a true bridge-technology to more viable passive energy-sources, that is a measured and positive response. GAU, Größter Anzunehmender Unfall, is an abbreviation for the worst case scenario, and a Super-GAU is what's beyond the ability to contain. It is scary and Japan should know it is not facing this tragedy alone.
The terror being broadcast, however unintentional, has a certain tone, as if such behaviour is unbecoming of civilized nation. It is collective shock and disbelief that such catastrophes can befall the mighty and the ongoing dissonance with the relative calm and order and perseverance of the brave Japanese people. With help and the right approach, these enormous tribulations will be overcome and rebuilt with solider foundations. Economically, Japan will thrive as well--within the same global framework and on the forefront. Distaste, however, will probably develop for the more negative, unconstructive side of finance: focused on recovery, Japan will not want--or need, to buy and hold US debt, supporting America's profligate habits and policies. A productive market, backed by real industry, will be another positive legacy.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Japan needs help.  Please give if you are able.

Save the Children: Emergency Relief for Japan Quake
Toll free (US): 800-728-3843
Text (US) JAPAN or 20222 to donate.

The American Red Cross: Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief
Text (US) REDCROSS or 90999 to make $10 donation by text message.
SMS (DE) DRK at 81190 to make a 5 euro donation.

Salvation Army
Toll free (US): 800-SAL-ARMY
Text (US) QUAKE or 80888 to donate $10

Doctors Without Borders

Global Giving
Text (US) JAPAN or 50555 to donate $10

Saturday, 12 March 2011

kid charlemagne

The Big Think (via Boing Boing) presents this very clever and illustrative Venn diagram to map out and explain the overlapping cabal and clubs, treaties and disputes that are overshadowed or masked by the idea of the European Union.  Though all these coalitions may be striving to form a more perfect union--and still preserve state sovereignty and character, held together by various bureaucratic centers, it shows what a peculiar and on-going challenge of negotiations it is.  And though it might seem hopelessly complex and sisiphian, such a coming together and agreeing to disagree after such turblent and divergent histories can form a peaceable kingdom through genuine discussion and conversation.

mothra versus godzilla

Despite outstanding preparation, response and containment on the part of government and communities, there are only poor, boundless words to describe the shock and sympathy over the devastation and loss for the people of Japan in the wake of this earthquake and tsunami that threatened to carpet the rest of the Pacific.

There is little to assuage the personal costs, but the people there are practiced and ready and together managed to avoid a much bigger catastrophe as it is still unfolding. The occasion for recovery and reorganization has led to ultimate good fortune and strength in the past, and no doubt the country will recover. No matter how well prepared and what sort of fail-safes are installed, however, there are sobering reminders of Nature’s aloof power, and not of man’s stubborn struggle for traction on a slipping cliff side.
The quirks of geography awaken suddenly and violently. What is seismically active, by definition, does go through periods of ebb and flow but there is little sense in expecting “the big one” or to proclaim anything is overdue—though that always sounds good in hindsight, as does recognizing the spate of quakes occurring as a sign of something other than the usual geocentric dispersion:
Christchurch, and Yunnan and the eruption of an Indonesian volcano in the same fateful day.
Astrologers are attributing this series to the tidal, tractor-beam pull of the Moon’s close approach to Earth. All support and goodwill lends Japan the strength and courage to recover, and its economy will surely be revitalized as people and communities heal. Though allegory, monsters, radioactive titans, were probably instruments of fiscal stimulus and reinvention as well.

Friday, 11 March 2011

BAföG

The English Daily the local features an article about a unique academy, at least in Germany, that's not too far from Bad Karma, our fair city, that specializes in training in the funerary arts. Surely there are other trade schools and apprenticeships but this sort of hybridized vocational college does not seem to be part of the European educational model of apprenticeship and rigour.

I have been by the campus--the buildings and the mock-graveyard, and it does not seem like a fly-by-night organization--I am sure it's a fine and respectable institution but it just bothers me how the exceptionalness of the place was stressed.  Death and disposition certainly are regulated by deeply personal and cultural norms as well--the climate for mourning and expression of grief as well as celebration and remembrance. Though any local mention is a bit noteworthy, the piece probably caught my attention more so because we are right now slowly making our way through the series Six Feet Under, whose method is genius, for its macrabe and morbidness and quirky professional insights into to both the business and people's attitudes towards it. This miniature diorama of the show is from a Belgian network's prime-time line-up promotion. Must see TV.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

vox populi

There is a strange dichotomy between the revolt raging in the Middle East and in the protests in the former powerhouses of agriculture and industry in the US. The organization and hierarchy of needs are of course substantively different, but there is precious little that separates the movements--maybe an empty shaft or the ventilation causeways that have become a plot-device in all sorts of capers, and the two are like service-elevators, parallel, and on the descent, on the ascent. Illusory, desultory freedoms are a fair diversion, and could be so much more meaningful, but count for little to a citizenry and government in hock to a few corporate magnates that have turned welfare and gainful employment to a Ponzi scheme of incubating funds until the whole game collapses. Those struggling for their basic rights should not have such a grasping avarice to look forward to after facing such challenges. Solidarity is profound for both movements, but there are comparable, though one decidedly more insidious, propaganda machines that try to turn support and opinion.
There's the daffy, convoluted censorship of some of these nervous dictatorships and the more innocent seeming sting of debate that the US is pushing: instead of all workers fighting for the same benefits as those in the civil sector or investigating for themselves the possible motivations and maneuvers behind the debate. Undermining the those traditional totems of partisan powers, union reciprocation the liberal parties, may be more politically expedient--inciting division, rather than discussing concessions and compromise.
Though in a supposedly civil and advanced society, it is difficult to see beyond the greed of the game, but insuring that there is no choice in future leadership--and work and mobility are likewise constrained--and power is more and more concentrated in the few.
International Workers of the World commissioned artist Eric Drooker to design them this terrific poster for what's surely to come if dialogue cannot be encouraged.  The choice of mascot makes quite a statement--reminescent of that 9-volt battery cat or Le Chat Noir.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

ersatz or informed consent

Last week, the local featured a brief article on the practice--seemingly more the custom rather than the breach, of German physicians to prescribe placebos (from the Latin for I shall please) to treat a narrow range of ailments rather than genuine medications. Just as treatment and healing can be spurred by the belief and trust of the patient in the sugar-pill can have subtle, complex and powerful results, the debate that this disclosure raises is equally complex.

German physicians, rather than being pressured by the insurance and pharmaceutical industry, as such a widespread practice is litigiously contentious and would never be condoned by the business, and have better intentions when it comes to deception for medical intervention. Some patients certainly demand drugs and treatment, and I imagine doctors sometimes have little choice but to placate them, and if minor discomforts can be cured (by the patient's mind) without the risk of promoting over-conditioning where antibiotics are made ineffective by being prescribed too freely or of side effects (Nebenwirkung), which are less culturally tolerated than in over-the-counter societies. It is, however, a bit dangerous to sow distrust, as the distinction between real and trick medicine becomes blurred, and any pharmaceutical's efficacy could be compromised by lack of faith.  The strength of medicine is in large part lent.  Doctors are not infallible and there's a lot of guesswork and intuition involved, but insisting on treatment against solicited advice is ignoring the physician's years of training and experience. Contemporary medical practice could be seen as snake oil and quackery by future generations. There was never a control-group for leech-mongering. As long as the patient is not endangered, and the physician must not only know what medicine to prescribe or not prescribe but also must have the skill to foster a relationship with the patient, which is unmatched by just dispensing what's fashionable, I would not suspect one to feel deceived but rather honoured that the doctor could help the patient heal himself.

Monday, 7 March 2011

parsley thief

Gourmand and recipe blog Food 52 (via Huffington Post) shares an array of dishes with sophisticated taste yet very simple to prepare, provided one can overcome the dual hitches of unfamiliarity and cooking languor. Recipe searches that can round-up, given a list of ingredients at hand, dinner ideas are clever things and sometimes motivational, but perhaps without an assigned challenge, one is too quick to fall back into old habits. I like how this one site takes the extra step, to ensure excuses are at a premium, of listing substitute items--acceptable alternatives instead of just shopping to the recipe.
Maybe the more obvious draw-back--hitch, however, is that these meals are poised to promote the vegetarian agenda--at least that's what the take-away is. Food is political and politicized enough without the appeal to meatless Mondays, which to many sounds like a dire austerity, an anachronistic sacrifice, and not like the invitation it really is to take smaller steps. Despite whatever flurry and preponderance of facts about sustainability is heard or ignored and whatever the individual's belief and convictions, attitudes and not the means, like so much genetically modified cropstuffs, climate change or fields of grain diverted as fuel-filler, should be what's weaponized. Quinoa will always seem a bit exotic and inaccessible, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but experimentation won't be broached with something on such a short and divisive fuse. Cuisine should not be ceded to the apothecary or potentate--or vice-versa. The art and activity of cooking is an achievement, regardless of one's talents and propensities, and expression but should not be mobbed with opinion and vitriol. There are a good deal of recipes that can reflect one's stance and conduct, without alienating the conscience and scruples of others, just by what's omitted. Menu reduction and replacement might also be interesting food experiment.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

sunday drive: fantasery

After managing to revive the Bulli from her Winter’s hibernation without much effort or hardship, we took her for a calisthenics drive through the woods and over the mountains to the fair city of Fulda. We had explored the historic part of town with its impressive abbey transformed into a basilica as a reliquary for the remains of Saint Boniface, apostle and patron of the Germans and founding archbishop of Mainz, which was constructed as a tribute to the original St. Peter’s in Rome (not the one today at the Vatican), and baroque adornments, so we also visited the abbot’s Propstei (Provostship) at Johannesberg.
The steeples and towers rising up from the start of the Hessen Alleenstraße (manicured, tree-lined lanes) was quite something but the complex of buildings, though well preserved with the chapel still there, was converted to more of a office-park, with an information-technology company and a realtor there. Next we stopped at the Schloss Fasanerie (DE)—as in pheasant-hunting, although I insisted on mispronouncing it “fantasery,” as in some place fantastic.
This was an absolutely massive but typical German weekend hunting retreat. The façade of the main building of the lodge was undergoing restoration but it was neat to be able to stroll down the long, continuous corridor through the endless scullery, lager, weems and stables. For its size, it seemed a model of efficiency and industry for entertaining, and I was impressed with the bath for the horses after a long day of pursuit.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

jet jaguar

‘Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.’ One of the very fine things that the democratization of the internet has spurred is that there is no limiting factor to subtlety in jokes and references. There is no pandering to mass appeal.  Only a few true fans need appreciate the allusion and there’s a venue and vehicle for insider merchandise, apparel and poster art especially. Threadless is a fantastic community of designers whose fashion is peer-reviewed and continuously revived by popular demand.
I was late discovering it, but Last Exit to Nowhere out of the UK specializes in the fictional corporate and souvenir merchandise mostly from classic sci-fi and horror films, producing memorabilia--though the source may not be initially apparent, that cannot be ignored even if one tries--as genius as vintage bowling league or obscure work shirts. The equally archetypal Mystery Science Theater 3000, I think, also operated on the principle that if one other viewer got the joke that was more than enough.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

rehoboham, imperial, methuselah, mordechai, salmanazar, balthazar, melchior, nebuchadnezzar

By no means do I consider myself a connoisseur---though it is rather strange how most people over-estimate their abilities when it comes to common feats, like driving: most people estimate themselves as better than average, but are rather self-effacing when it comes to the usual or not-everyday sort of thing, like juggling, where even a mediocre or self-described bad juggler is better than most--but wine is a little vacation for the palate.  We have a lot of fun trying new vintages, and I have acquired some favoured varieties: Spanish Tempranillo, South African Pinotage, Austrian Blauer Zweigelt, French Muscat and a lot of regional rich destinations.  Though maybe my standards and discrimination are somewhat compromised, I find it a challenge not to find a bad, cheap wine but to find a decent one priced above that catagory.
Recently our neighbour clued us in on a trade secret, mentioning that a discount supermarket chain (this store is inconvenient and across town) carries an astonishingly and incongruously good selection of wines at a low price.  I wonder what buyer they have in retainer to orchestrate this coup.  Not ascribing to the by-laws of the Institute of Wine Drinkery, they carry a consistent selection of award-winning wines, the sort that let someone with not so refined taste get a fleeting taste of what's meant by all the protocols (burgundy and white wine glasses, letting it breath, temperature), acolades and descriptors.  The title, by the way, refers to overs-sized measures of wine, bottles with a volume of 4,5 litres on up.

bulli for you

After the successful launch of the reinvented Beetle (albeit more than a decade earlier but Fahrvergnügen takes time), Volkswagen has decided to reintroduce its Microbus, the Bulli, to new generation of drivers and nostalgic adventurers.

The design looks very flashy and I am sure a good work of engineering--however, I think this new model is no comparison with our classic: where is the VIP lounge, the little kitchen with cook top, refrigerator and sink? I am sure everything is sleek, clever and modular--but where is the place to sleep and stretch out? I don't think camping could be as much fun and would be more like just parking, adverse to getting this car too dirty. Also, there is the matter of all those dials and electronics and I am sure that this modern car couldn't be overhauled on the side of the Autobahn with a hammer, spanner and syringe, like our 1984 version, and without computerized diagnostic equipment. Plus, the face and eyes on the new model are a bit harsh and severe, more like a Decepticon's rather than your friendly neighbourhood Autobot's.
Still, I think this is a good thing to promote exploration and freedom and maybe recapture something genuine from that time. Personally, I can't wait for the Spring, when we can tinker with ours and take it out on the road again.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

verbraucherschutz

 Everyone is a comedian. I am not sure if the authorities at the US Consumer Products Safety Commission are as well or if I just have an imaginative departure from the agreed-upon standard grasp of the language. We are kept too safe, I think, and who couldn't foresee some risk inherent in a Johnny-Jump-Up or a bucket seat to take one's baby for a run, but I think reading the bullet-briefs without going into the explanation is much more scary and treacherous.
Just after Christmas there was a recall notice on certain mittens due to strangulation hazard (that's a popular theme) and I envisioned some demonic possession that caused the wearer to channel some murderous spirit, but it turned out the seasonal appliqué work could come loose and someone might choke on them.
Caveat emptor--who would have thought that Tommy Bahama travel candles are a safe and viable product? Their advocacy, especially revealing hidden dangers and shoddy workmanship, is a welcome and necessary thing, even though many warning should come as little surprise.  Maybe the Consumer Safety Commission should have tried an iconic mascot. Most people that grew up with such characters as Woodsy Owl and Smokey Bear--or even Mister ZIP and Reddy-Kilowatt--would be too embarrassed to make a foolish mistake in their presence. A safety mascot might have dissuaded some of these items ever being brought to store shelves to begin with, shoppers instilled with a little more common sense.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

fusion cuisine

Having watched coverage of the Middle East protests continuously, my mother was curious about the mention of an Egyptian national dish: spaghetti-rice as it was called from time to time. I thought it was quite interesting to pick up some cultural tidbits on the side, especial considering the open pledge drive for pizzas for the workers’ sit-in in Wisconsin in the States. Benefactors from Egypt donated $1000 worth of it to feed the movement. After a little research, we found the simple dish was kushari and a real staple of day-to-day life. I experimented and improvised a bit. The presentation is aesthetically not too pleasing but it was easy to make and boasts a lot of potential.
The ingredients that I chose were based on cooking time (the particular kind of pasta and rice could be set to boil and be done in the same time) but I am sure a lot of other variations, depending also on what is at hand, would be equally as good.

1 cup (about 100 grams) of Basmati Rice
1 ⅓ cup Penne Pasta
1 cup diced tomatoes (I tried Rotel)
1 ⅓ cup lentil soup (drained)
Hot Madras Curry Power
Ground Cumin
Garlic (clove)
I started the rice first, which required about twelve minutes on low boil, but started the pasta, with a bit of salt and olive oil at the same time. Then, removing the extra liquid from the tomatoes and lentils—dried lentils surely would have been better but take an hour to prepare and the bits of onion and peppers in the soup gave the dish some added texture, and as I vegetarian, I was sure to get lentils without Bauchspeck (pork belly) which is a challenge to find but I am sure kushari is great with lamb or chicken (schawarma it’s called, like Döner meat) as well—I added the spices, generously, and chopped garlic with the mix in a sauce pan, letting that simmer throughout. Everything was pretty much ready at once. Gently, I mixed together the rice and the pasta and then smothered it with the tomato and lentil sauce. It turned out to be really delicious, and I think it might come out better with the crunch of some caramelized onions or those crunchy, French-fried onions that have their only foothold in green-bean casserole, and also topped with garbanzo beans (chickpeas). One is meant I think, however, to go with whichever of the stock items one has in his pantry. This was a good meal for two, and though so much of my cooking is a one-off affair, I think I might try making this again.

vexillology

Since following closely the uprising in the Middle East, I have come to fondly identify our big mood lamp in the living room--"horned," originally, but now decidedly crescent, especially when viewed from outside on the balcony--as a sign of solidarity with the protesters, a sort of Bat-Signal, beacon, that this will ultimately turn out for the best for everyone. 
There seems to be genuine progress, condemnation and empathy in a united front however much that may be wanting to stave off interference and the potential to meddle and vouchsafing the people's security, safety and precariously delicate revolution.  It is more than a talent of statecraft to strike the right accord between talk and action, especially when the revolt itself was in part made possible by the byways and transparency of communication that make it more and more difficult to make one's self-interest and motives diffuse and deniable. 
Some governments have not yet invented (or forgot) the vocabulary to express honest and undisguised intentions, and such intrusion might be checked within a larger framework.  It is difficult to say what the international community could or should do, beyond being receptive to developments, not unfairly burdening the people's business of change with future projections and fears--the cost of oil and the flood of refugees--and applying the lessons that these cautionary leaders have been teaching all along. Incidentally, notice how one of the banners of the Franconia region of Germany, of which there are many standards of state, has a strong, inverted likeness with the flag of Bahrain.