Friday, 30 September 2011

long march or sky palace of first heaven

The Chinese space administration has initiated a very major technical and also visionary project--first as a sandbox to develop docking and maneuvering capabilities and on to grander things, of placing the first component of an unmanned space-station in orbit. I think some innovators really started to lose their edge for substance and symbol after the Space Race of the Cold War, and what with a lot of large scale science programmes being mothballed or decommissioned, this I think is a positive advancement. The people who realized Skylab had some back-handed congratulations for China, saying that China was making strides but they had accomplished the same thing back in the 1970s. China, the European Space Agency and others, however, are not just playing catch-up--by no means were the possibilities and avenues of exploration exhausted by the pioneering players. A lot of exciting things still are going in the cosmos and discoveries are being made, but it is important, I think, to be able to captivate people's imaginations with such a permanent presence and flagship enterprise--and not just with brute computing and tele-commuting.

tusken raiders

Seeing an endless succession of horror stories about metal-thievery--primarily through a distant lens to the States but there have been a few incidents in Germany and they are nothing new and novel, I am just left sad and anxious about the infrastructure and institutions destroyed, only to be replaced at a higher cost, and more for the artwork, public and private, at risk. Looking just down the street, I fear that our neighbourhood statuary would not last a minute before it was stripped down if transplanted elsewhere, desperate and listless. People must be pretty frightened if uprooting railroad tracks or melting-down sculptures seem like a productive occupation, and I hope that this sentiment does not spread.
Recycling for the most part has been institutionalized and adjudged its own reward, however, there are still creative avenues for mining mineral wealth: a few months ago, we watched a documentary about a waste-management concern in Germany that is treasure-hunting in vintage land-fills and extracting Wertstoff from old appliances, electronics, household trash, etc. that were thrown away decades ago before recycling was mandatory. I bet they are finding other artifacts more or less intact too. I can imagine that future archeologists might bemoan losing the chance to explore these junkyards and strata but sacrificing that sort of cultural archive is certainly better than losing the monuments and mementos, bronzes and plaques where one lives.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

stempeluhr or casey jones

Much more frightening than facial recognition capabilities arising in social media networks that could tag one's likeness in that parallel, virtual universe, or even that it could project how one might look aged in the real world, or even cross over tagging in the very real world of omnipresent surveillance cameras--even scarier than the gimmicky, pervy scanners used at US airports and sporting arenas, offered as an alternative to an invasive pat-down (though a really sorry trade-off)--scariest yet are the biometric punch clocks that factories, fast-food restaurants and distribution centers are installing in the States to further terrorize and torment low-wage workers.  The above listed insults are bad enough in themselves, and probably have gone far to inure the public's attitude towards pervasive biometric systems.  Comfortable when they've managed to deflect affronts by their societal-outlets or the airports waive them through security, the average person does not think about having his or her minutes and productive clocked, having indelibly announced their arrival, departure and breaks (not to mention everything in between) by having their face photographed or fingerprint taken.  Of course, those workers do not get much of an opportunity to complain about this psychologically toxic control over their schedules, making tardiness inexcusable and any other excuse moot.  With labour unions defanged, hopefully there are still advocates for the working poor who would have businesses explore the ethical and human-impact of adopting such technology beforehand--pause to compare the costs of such a system (though like the x-ray scanners and electronic voting machines they are probably not very effectual) versus being a decent and motivating supervisor, since with high and enduring unemployment, each worker is expendable and there are thousands eager to advance from the ranks of the unemployed into his or her spot, whether or not they suffer such humilation, until or unless the workers revolt or are replaced by machines.

negative reinforcement or forever blowing bubbles

The reigning coalition in Germany has been compelled to make some difficult decisions and try to apply some sophistical cheer to an approach to the debt crisis that's been shown to be a costly failure. The public needs convincing that their tax monies are not being squandered and that this rescue package is not just a furtherance (kicking the can) of the same game, same irresponsibility and same greed that's bigger than the public's interests or hopes or aspirations. Such dishonesty and futility is being broached, I'd venture, mostly because of the berating and scolding that the European Union as a whole received from a very paternal and ironic United States: blamed for the global financial crisis and blamed for perpetuating fear and manufacturing and hiring timidity through its inaction. A lot of unsolicited advice has been traded since the public became aware of this Great Game but never in the form of an official rebuke and lecture. I hope the EU does not fold to this sort of pressure, since its only in the interest of the States and the Elite Them to stoke a virtual euro bubble. It's all hearsay.
Speaking of economic bubbles, Magic Eight Ball is indicating that the next boom and bust cycle may lie in the agricultural business--in food and drink. Cows and cars are already competing over fodder, leading to shortages and price inflation all around. I'm afraid that there will be a land-grab of the limited suitable fields and pastures, just like the exuberance that accelerated property prices during the Housing Crisis only to fall and to dash greed as well as livelihoods. There will probably also be action to turn more small farms into franchisees of agribusiness conglomerates, like the unstinting corporations that have put genetically modified crops, biofuels and corn-syrup into the food-chain. There are more of us to feed and only so much space left to grow what we need, without further decimating the environment. Hitching up home prices to a dangerous and unsustainable height was bad enough--it's scary to try to imagine how the situation might look with more immediate and needful provisions.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

fortune cookie

Recently, when faced with the disclosure that monitoring of its users did not cease after they logged out, a popular social networking utility demurred to give an honest answer. To some degree, the computing public has only just been reintroduced to the concept of a cookie--a prion that is a token of one's visit history and whereabouts that helps the internet function more smoothly.

What some services do is indeed dastardly and one ought to be able to expect some way of turning off their status updates and autobiography of things they're keen on. It was scant months ago that a popular cellular telephone manufacturer (EN/DE) attributed its persistent spying (even when disabled) to an overzealous programmer and said it was not intentional. Given adequate resources and interests, anyone could monitor anyone else's activity online, regardless of membership, of course, but no one wanted their outside interests mingled with the persona that he or she shows to the world.
Social networking sites, however, have made the potential for monitoring less a question of committing resources and more of an untapped given. Untangled, facial recognition software routines even transpose internet and real-world tracking abilities. What, I believe, is the most interesting aspect to this outrage, which--if not apathy disguised--sort of flags when one really faces the prospect of boycotting the service or simply disconnecting, is that members would be convinced otherwise. Skepticism and self-censorship are healthy approaches, because users are not customers. The services are "free" and users volunteer marketing and marketable information that enriches these sites. They may promise cohesion and accountability, but what's exacted for free seems quite the opposite sometimes.

save the date

Though it's probably a little too grim for actual use as a wedding invitation, this print from artist Max Dalton, inspired by Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill volume I, is absolutely brilliant. Surplus prints may be made available at the artist's blog and this work is part of an exhibition touring the US of re-imagined Tarantino and Coen Brothers cinema icons.

appellation d'origine controlee and prussian blue

 Unlike Roquefort cheese, Champagne from Champagne, Dijon mustard, and dozens of other regional delicacies and specialties, Bavarian Obazda (also known as Obatzter, Angebatzter, Gerupfter in Franconia or as Gmanschter in Switzerland) was not awarded the proprietary protections of a geographical viticulture designation by the German courts. This spicy cheese spread is certainly unique and a signature Brotzeit dish--however, I like the fact that it was also ruled that it cannot be copyrighted. Too many things are overly-litigious as it is, without affording food and drink a court-appointed attorney and though imitators will be opportunists, distinction and quality are usually self-regulating.
Tradition, like the Reinheitsgebot (legally enforceable) and secrecy, as with the German chemists and dye-makers or Venetian mirror-makers or authentic charter house Chartreuse, whose blend of herbs is only known to two monks, forms a process with checks and balances, rather than monopolization--renown is not exclusivity, and a better model than relying on trolling and cartels. Family recipes, handed down, though there is a shift to jealously guard collections once shared under a gettization scheme, creation and experimentation should not be hindered by the letter of the law when it usual fails to keep the plaintiff undiluted in the first place.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

sea of green or silent run

Recently we were watching the Wolfgang Petersen classic film Das Boot (The Boat) about a crew of submariners patrolling the Atlantic Wall during World War II. I had forgotten that their berth was in the harbor of La Rochelle, where we traveled over the summer. In fact, I didn't recall much of the movie from when I saw it originally and was dumbstruck to realize that it was made thirty years ago this year. Then a decade after its release--and this soundtrack does strike a chord, in 1991, a group of pioneering German techno artists, U96 (eponymously), remixed the glorious and marauding theme from Das Boot and reintroduced it as one of the first commercially successful works of electronic music.

Monday, 26 September 2011

significant digits

With all the talk and nerves, one would reasonably conclude that Europe and the euro are being assaulted on all fronts not by a debt-burden or over-wrought speculation but rather by a crisis in the currency and partnership itself. European manufacturing and innovation has not been overtaken, and there is no talk of war-mongering--there has been quite a bit of thinking out loud and gloomy scenarios that have been other than helpful and have stoked panic, so I think every possibility on one's mind has already been voiced, inflation is not galloping in the marketplace (other than through shortages caused by environmental changes, like the wildfires in Russia, etc), and the euro, relative to other currencies) has only lost fractional value and is certainly one of the more stable ones.  A tenth of a cent in the exchange rate does make a difference to traders and those with dollar denominated loans--or try to out-smart the next moves, like me--being paid in US dollars. The bailout, relief programs of the States are echoed in the plans for a euro rescue fund, having wealthy member countries contribute to a pool credit that will be made available to poorer members on contingency.

What this rescue fund is, however, is not a rainy day account but rather an instrument to facilitate some countries to make more loans to others in distress without violating the founding principles of economic health for joining the EU in the first place. And it is no solution to throw more money at a problem that was precipitated in the first place in part by being overextended on easy-credit. There might be a less damaging and indentured way beyond this slump and worry--interestingly, it is the banks and investors that revealed the sovereign debt problem by refusing to extend more credit, though it took them decades to admit to themselves that this too was unsustainable, but those same financiers do not want to entertain the following alternative either: allowing some economies the option of bankruptcy (not messy and predatory and sudden) in a controlled environment, with support on hand and at the ready, provides economies with the hope of a definite end and a scheduled rebuilding.

pontifex and bauhaus

This past weekend was a busy and a bittersweet one for H and I. First, very early on Saturday, we joined some thirty-thousand pilgrims, winding our ways through dark and circuitous alleys policed by a huge security force to the Cathedral Square of the old city of Erfurt, where incidentally Martin Luther reformer and architect of the Protestant schism was educated in the priesthood and was first ordained, to celebrate the Eucharist with the Pope.
It was a very moving experience to share with all those thousands, focused on one individual. Having recovered from that adventure, we crossed to the antipode of Germany to the city of Darmstadt--beautiful and enjoyable but sad as we bid my parents farewell as they were getting ready to return to the States. We met them at their temporary vacation cottage, nearer the airport, and went into town to first see the apartment complex, the Waldspirale, designed by the Austrian artist Hundertwasser, with onion-topped domes and a strange non-Euclidean geometry that was like something out of the blended imaginations of the Flintstones and Dr. Seuss.
Darmstadt is replete, as well with, examples from many styles and movements and we passed through blocks of Jungstil (Art Nouveau) townhouses on our approach to the artist colony and architectural workshop and laboratory in the Mathildenhöhe neighborhood. The park is a cascading ensemble of early 1900s design.
The Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower) is a quintessential Jungstil skyscraper though draped for renovation in the background (here's a little version made for blind visitors) in the background, behind the Russian Orthodox Chapel and water elements.  Spending an afternoon at a café on the grounds was a very nice way of saying to my Mom and Dad that we will see them real soon and wishing them best of luck for their continued adventures.

Friday, 23 September 2011

antitelephone

There's quite a bit of discussion about the rather rigourous and consistently unexpected measurements that physicists at the CERN laboratories have chanced upon and disclosed as an invitation for peer-review. Neutrinos from Switzerland are arriving in a partner research facility in Italy a bit earlier than expected, just a bit faster than the speed of light, which is a cherished constant and supposed impossibility. I think no one is suggesting that Albert Einstein's century old theories of special relativity and derived equations are wrong, but such discoveries are exciting and disabusing, even when debunked and remediated. I do wonder how the neutrinos' arrival was clocked in the first place, though I am certain that the scientists are desperate themselves to be proven wrong. CERN is a particle accelerator and when one is coaxing particles within fractions of the speed of light, the energy required approaches infinity and mass, inertia that resists going faster builds and builds. Nothing in Einstein's work, however, precludes the existence of particles that always move at the speed of light or even faster, just so longer as they were not accelerated and cannot convey energy or information. Rather than strictly quantifying an exact relationship between matter and energy, Einstein's work is a framework that reveals logical profundities that are reflected and confirmed in our understanding of the fabric of the universe. That physical objects, as predicted by Einstein and others, undergo a time-dilation as they increase speed has already been proven: subatomic particles boosted to near light speed, in a sense, survive much longer and travel further than their limited half-life at rest proffers. By extension, anything traveling faster than light, would appear to a stationary observer to be moving backwards in time. The neutrinos could arrive in Italy before they were dispatched from Switzerland, but such a result seems to violate common-sense, causality and everything else. If, as in the contemporary thought experiment, one's future self could call and influence the decisions of one's past self, everything seems to come apart and go all out of sequence--unless that is what already is happening and we cannot see it for our own logical blinders.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

marching orders

This is not the timeliest reporting, but after being in effect for eighteen years, it is nice to actually see the repeal (DE) in print and on official stationary. Of course, what comes after all the talk, debate and vitriol is important and mending, but this final formality seemed already in place and triumphant for quite a while. The memo was just now disseminated to our level, and though that's a rather typical internal pace, news does find other avenues and outlets.

up periscope or objects in the rear-view mirror may appear closer than they are

Generally, I am never in so much of a hurry that I would chance passing trucks bumbling down the county roads, although the line of cars behind me sometimes don't appreciate the leisurely pace (the time to rush is before one leaves home and not on the road). I do get stuck, quite often, idling and studying the rear of a cargo transporter and I was thinking, as the line of cars behind my lead grew more and more impatient, that having a view-screen to see around the truck and the next bend in the road, would be a neat thing--although I am sure there would be worries about liability issues. I am sure marketers, like those who plaster buses and trams in advertising like race cars, would install the monitors and cameras for the chance at having another mobile billboard that might also make over-taking traffic a slightly safer maneuver.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

casting stones or papst blue-ribbon

The staff at Der Spiegel is presenting a preview of the Pope's potentially difficult visit to his homeland, which H and I will be attending this weekend--beginning with biographies of the prominent-players Benedikt will encounter on his State visit, replete with skeletons in the closet. Berlin's lord mayor has said that the Pontiff is welcome in his city, but so are the protesters. Through the lens of Catholicism, Germany's statesmen are revealed as a quite a lot of reprobates.
"Luckily for the pope, he won't have any problems with two other prominent people he will meet in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel (remarried) and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (gay) are both Protestants."
I suppose, by the rules, we all do. There are serious social schisms that need to be healed and some shadowy deportments that have gone too long without saying. Once, in seminar in college, I proclaimed--rather obtusely, that Jesus says: "The rules are for bad people." While I don't believe that's necessarily rubric or Church doctrine, there is ample latitude for tolerance and learning from one another and loving one another, despite any differences in upbringing and inculcation.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

basta and geldpolitik

I am not sure what to make of this Fire Sale that the United States has announced with its apparent intent to offer unlimited US dollar-denominated loans to try to hold interest rates down for European countries coming against their debt thresholds. This emergency relief seems like a mechanism to undo the gossipy damage done by downgrades from the credit rating agencies, since credit-worthiness determines the upward usury on loans--in other words, to allow everyone to keep playing. Though ostensibly Germany's Federal Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (Bundes-ministerium für Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucher-schutz) may be an exception, it seems like most of the work of governments, bullied by supranational finance institutions, is devoted to protecting the lender organizations and promoting good PR for their schemes and trustworthiness, with little regard or recourse for the debtors. Holding players to another round, without rigid or fair rules to play by, instead of allowing a pass or fold yields diminishing returns and impoverishes everyone, no matter what the window-dressing. These insubstantial lifelines tossed to the EU allows the dollar to dodder a bit longer at favourable lows and generates nominal revenue off of phantom loans, and a fixed margin of appreciation (how much the dollar-euro exchange rate varies) keeps the borrowers from speculating over-much against the lenders. If the euro value tumbles, the dollars become the functional currency, but if the euro gains in value against the dollar (as it should do because the European market are inherently stronger and more stable), such debt becomes cheap to pay off. The euro is not in distress and it does not need this kind of American chivalry and chauvinism (and maybe the munificence of others too), and it looks as if the creditors' champions have succeeded in expanding (diluting) their money supply without immediately and clearly sacrificing the security of their players for their very next round.

Monday, 19 September 2011

ahoy, hoy or pirates' progress

Yarrggg, mateys! The Pirate Party (die Piratenpartei) secured a significant number of seats in Berlin's general state-election, and they are able to aptly celebrate their victory with International Talk like a Pirate Day (EN/DE). That's really something. I wonder if excitement over the opportunity to use this patois helped to rally the voters and to mutually raise awareness about electronic privacy and public-domain issues.
Another fabulist tradition of adventures and incredible yarns has just recently been re-kindled: after publishing its collected stories and taking a two year hiatus, Damn Interesting appears to be returning with more bizarre and engrossing vignettes that are certainly more enduring in terms of scholarship, research and interest than the daily buzz, but it is also a treat to have fresh dispatches from the weird and wonderful.

Friday, 16 September 2011

mowgli or babelsberg

We may well all have been had, but this sort of story, tragic and mysterious, is engrossing and seems a little too quiet to be a hoax--the English daily the local reports on a teenage boy who emerged from the forests outside Berlin in early September, healthy but apparently oblivious of his origins and identity after having lived in the woods for five years with his father. He only speaks English and demonstrates only rudimentary understanding of German. I am reminded about another supposed wild youth of Germany, Kaspar Hauser of Ansbach, who may have, as a rightful heir to the throne, been cast into the wilderness and hidden away by a pretender or usurper. The story, just told in brief, seems quite sad and I am sure that the German Sprachraum is sensitive to such dramatic appearances, especially considering the continuing revelations of kept basement-women and cases of decades of mistreatment and isolation. In fact, this sort of thing seems to be a particularly German leit-motif, with Rapunzel, the Bamberg Boy who was raised by cows, Peter of Hamelin (same town where the villagers lost their children because they failed to pay the piper) who was adopted by the British monarchy. There is also the film Hanna (a German-American venture from Babelsberg studios), about a prodigious and deadly little girl, raised alone by her father in arctic wastelands and intensely tutored in what to do in case of an emergency, like the youth found outside of Berlin was instructed to go north. It is a mystery--and I wonder what kind of escapism it is to feel estrangement, savage otherness, that such things happen to anybody but at the same time hope it's not a prank.

fantastic planet

With some 1800 confirmed and strongly suspected extrasolar planets discovered and more coming into focus nearly every day, it really is a revolution like when van Leeuwenhoek first peered into a microscope and a whole, unseen universe of tiny beasties came into sharp resolution. The cache of discoveries is much more than can be committed to memory, like the pantheon of our possibly not-so-unique Solar System, more already than the catalogue of ships that stormed the beaches at Troy and maybe soon the whole of the story-telling tradition of the Iliad. Though most have not been substantiated beyond radar ghosts, astronomers have found some truly bizarre specimens (or relationships) that both rival and parallel imagination and science-fiction.
In addition to a slew of bulked-up terrestrial planets, there has been worlds battered by x-rays, worlds blacker than midnight, ones with two suns like Tatooine, ones gassy and disperse, and possibly orphaned worlds wandering interstellar space with no host star. It is hard to comprehend, minus even the number-count or superlative, extreme examples, that each of these worlds are actually worlds with at minimum a richness of geology with weathered and cultivated landscapes. In anticipation of a new golden age of exploration, clever people have even devised clocks and calendars for the Martian day (Sol) and year. If such detailed and idiosyncratic knowledge can be applied to a world that is by turns tantalizing and rather mundane, it is hard to imagine what's to become of our earthling standards.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

grading on the curve or trivial pursuit

According to a study (EN/DE) just released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), trends suggest that Germany is on track to make less significant contributions of highly skilled and literate individuals into the workforce. Such talents are of course hard to quantify, and I think it is more troublesome that the brute ignorance and general surrender of the American education system (and the dominant attitudes of a post-education populace) are being underestimated by making light comparisons.

The cautionary tale of the American education system, dissected honestly and fearlessly, should be enough to scare any student to work-harder and collectively retain that cutting-edge. The OECD may be just trying to frighten Germany back in line too with its prognosis. Though to feel over-secure in any critique, especially on teaching, is done at one's own peril, I do wonder if the change has less to do with the rigour of instruction than shifts in the way people reason and remember. There was another study concluded a few months ago from a university neurology department (the fact that I don't need to really say which university or when, exactly, sort of illustrates my point) that suggested internet search engines, the miscellany of everything, have transformed the way people try to retrieve information. Subjects were asked quiz questions, like: name a national flag that consists of only one colour. I thought that one was easy, since there is/was only one: Libya's green flag. For many subjects, however, the process of formulating an answer had turned (as far as such things can be seen and measured) from searching ones memory and extrapolating a guess to rather thinking of where and how they could find the answer, presumably what search parameters to use on the internet and where they could look, and regarded that space as an extension of his or her own mind. Recalling facts and figures and precedent is certainly different than appreciable skill or artistic talent, but maybe there is a similar phenomena in play: that engineers, tinkerers and doctors are too part of a continuum, requiring a different approach and metric.

bing bang or urknall

The ever-splendid Boing Boing (a directory of wonderful things) featured a pretty neat infographic illustrating the cosmological unfolding of the Big Bang model from Omid Kashan. It is really captivating, and intuitive without reading the impossibly small text, that show abstracted phases of development, like umbrage on the Moon, and reminiscent of the glorious and psychedelic ordinal counting exercising from the Children's Television Workshop, the pilfered map of the holes in the fabric of the Universe in Time Bandits, or some astral space-pirate treasure map all at once. Another outstanding venue for such reinterpretations and celebrating knowledge and discovery is the magazine Mental Floss. I've been monitoring that site more frequently, and I really enjoy their self-proclaimed science-ish and trivia sections--in addition to the daily exploration.

Monday, 12 September 2011

cogitative bias

The waves of panic in European banking stocks and in the overall American market over EU fiscal discipline and future of the currency-bloc seems to me a bit disingenuous. Battering the creditworthiness of certain big banks or the ability of some member states to adhere to their imposed self-improvement plans. After all, it is in America's interest to promote this particular sort of torment and agony, since it masks its own regulatory and supply-side shortcomings and, moreover, it is in the better interest of the USA to keep the euro over-valued and the dollar weak. Should the euro wane, the American export market would suffer from cheaper European competition, and resources, priced in dollars, would become more dear. Defaults and the perception of defaults might hurt business profit in the short-term but not people, productivity and the marketplace in the long-term, and the policies and mechanisms that will be developed to redress bankruptcy will ultimately translate to a strong and stable European economy.

try to remember that kind of september

Pausing to reflect on the events of 11 September and recalling the sorrow shared over the fact that the perpetrators, whomever they might be, felt that what they were doing would result in a greater good, however that might be measured. The events and the reverberating response, magnfied and rippling through the years, are tragic and with little solace.
The conditioning (the "new-normal"), posturing and policy that came about through loss and fear projected should not be coddled and commemorated like the endless state of war and blind vigilance these prevailing attitudes have inspired. For those who suffered personal loss on 11 September or in the decade of conflict and incarceration that followed should never be expected to forget or move on and should be allowed to grieve in their own ways, but no matter how sadness is screwed up into revenge, hate, vitriol and unthinking, I do not believe that the legacy of those losses of that day and of the days and years that followed should be transmuted into practices and protocol that have radically changed things for the worse, bred intolerance and curtailed liberties.
That's the other shared sorrow, and that is no tribute and a grave dishonour. Too many words already lost their meaning in theatre and farce.  If anything the solidarity and the recognition that we all belong to one another, should be the point-of-departure of 11 September and not what's been sown.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

green thumb or fait accompli

Considering the jungle of plants that have invaded our house, sometimes I think there’s something a little bit sinister in all of it. I wonder if plants are not really the intelligent-designers, exceedingly patient, and having selectively-bred human, their caretakers, to do their bidding. Millennia ago, plants got the means to realize agriculture, worship and veneration, lumberjacks, then coffee and tobacco and other medicinal uses, florists, victory gardens, earned a place in our homes and many industries and then even genetic engineering to augment their own evolution. That’s a clever possibility and none too innocent, even if humans have gotten to be rather neglectful of forests and surely not part of the master-plan… I for one welcome our leafy-overlords.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

confabulation, conflagration

The unprecedented scope of the wild-fires ravaging central Texas is a frightening thing, already in superlative year for natural and man-assisted disasters, though recent record-holders are quickly outdone and not allowed to bask in their glory or infamy for very long. The latest in the series of governors from that state have invited scorn and courted wrath and maybe there is a parallel, close relationship--the ability to peer into his soul, between the current sitting governor and presidential aspirant and the Russian leadership.

About a year ago, unquenchable wildfires were also threatening the Russian countryside, and the administration was criticized for its crisis-management and possibly handicapping the whole process of response and prevention by cutting back on support for firefighters. To what degree that criticism was warranted remains unclear, though the Russians who suffered lost because of the fires were cared for and the fire crews are fully-funded. It is however less of a question and more substantiated fact that the Texan leadership has shut down firehouses and curtailed support for voluntary (Freiwillig) firefighters, and so many Americans resist evacuation in the States because they have very little faith that their losses will be restored. It is a bit ironic that the aspirations of the Texas governor are built on the shaky principles that federalism is the cause of all woes and is loath to ask for its aid during the crisis. To some extent, this purging by fire sweeping through the forests and grasslands is a natural cycle, unavoidable and necessary, but poor stewardship and response fuels its destructive power. I hope that those affected survive this disaster and re-emerge with refreshed strength to guide policy and priorities in a sensible and not superficial direction.

Friday, 9 September 2011

meritocrazia

Threatened with municipal redundancy, an ambitious local government council from the village of Filettino are drawing up articles of cession from Italy and declaring themselves an independent principality. Part of the austerity measures of the Italian government propose that small villages be annexed by their larger parent commune, in order to save on administrative expenses. Outraged at facing the end of their village as a separate political entity, Filettino has anointed its mayor, are seeking a prince, and has even issued its own currency. Villagers are very enthralled with how this will go, citing Italy's long, divided history of enclaves and city-states and the fact that San Marino has survived for centuries in its own right. The most serene republic, as opposed to a principality, is however not quite the same animal as a toy kingdom with shifting alliances, having endured as a democracy since the third century. I for one wish Filettino well, in whatever form it takes, and think that it would be pretty neat to be king or even subject there and it is a very creative tact to take in protest to what may be misdirected hardships.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

sprachraum or datenwolke

I've utilized the clever web application Linguee for helping with German-English (the service works in several languages) translations for quite some time. Although my bi-lingual posts may not always be the greatest endorsement, Linguee is not a traditional translator, rather scours the internet for existing translations to find elements and phrases, and it is really a great tool for cross-checking grammar and idiomatic expressions. Recently too they've refined their website with more aesthetic and functional features.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

guise

The abundantly marvelous Neat-o-Rama is raising some very legimate concerns from a retired member of the Australian federal police force: facial recognition and automated image-tagging features of popular social media services could eventually render it impossible to conduct an undercover operation. Advanced software can already guess how people's looks might age, and even if someone's profile is from his or her infancy, having such schematics out there in the ether permanently could pose a severe detriment to any aspiring secret agent. I suppose that it would not just apply to sting operations, but to everything deft and clock-and-dagger, like espionage, witness protection, et cetera. It is frightening how anonymity is imploding, and that privacy and repercussions are only saved by the herd and hive that are getting exponentially easier to manage.

rettungsschirm or golden parachute

As the banking principalities and condominiums across Europe scramble to prevent a broad loss of faith and strengthen a united front when it comes to the membership or rich and poor participants, the Swiss have quietly made a significant change to their monetary policy and a concession of a measure of their independence.

Because of the relative weakness of the US dollar and uncertainty surrounding the euro, the Franc has become very attractive to investors, who are hording Franc and as a result pricing out of range for their competitors. For Switzerland, however, the Franc has become a victim of its own success and reputation, since this over-valuation is hurting exports, tourism and the day-to-day activities of residents. With the exchange rate obscenely favourable, the Swiss are crossing borders to do their grocery shopping and are reluctant to forego its worth at home. In order to dampen the rush to collect Francs, the Swiss have decided to peg the Franc to the euro, setting an upwards threshold for its price. This move might put the breaks on the stockpiling, and might also preserve some of its reputation as a safe and protected harbour amid all this turmoil. On the other front, complying with the demands of foreign tax authorities, though I suspect that this will be just temporary, has already besmirched Switzerland somewhat. Yoking one's success to the euro seems like a pretty smart and subtle move, with the recognition that no market is insular, but I do think it is significant that the Swiss would be willing to sacrifice a small part of their national aloofness--for the right cause.  To stop exclusively playing the host and become a player, a partisan in order to make economic conditions better for ordinary people shows that priorities are not muddled.
Meanwhile, both H and I, have been continuing to save our pennies, although I have ritualized the long-standing process with a monthly trip to the bank with my Sparschwein and savings' book. Piggy banks are dogged and always solvent, and I like to think that these small contributions of money-at-rest can help shore up the union. As for Switzerland and the EU, I am sure that there are enough talent and resources and treasure discovered and undiscovered to withstand a crisis of confidence.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

9/11^10

This is morning in America. Ten years on as the anniversary of the attacks approaches, and I have to wonder if all the devotion to security theatre, terrorism has become a rather specious subject, methods and efforts vilified by a marked absence.
Marshalling armies for such a pageant has not left an abundance of resources for calling together militias for other causes that have been eroding during the past decade. What happens in the within the American sphere of influence is far from all gloom and grime and there are still much charity and vision coming from there, but from the periscope of living abroad and what pushes the news, it seems like a national will has been lost and edited away like it was never there to begin with. Potential for earning a livelihood is anemic, the disparity of wealth has spread, citizens in terms of values and priorities have never been more polarized and desperate for demagoguery, communities are at odds with one another, infrastructure is crumbling and little has been invested for the future. Maybe the legacy of 11. September is not in heightened security, mistrust, loss of privacy but rather in the demotivation of reactionaries, always struggling to respond--irrespective of scope or scale, instead of building that is enduring and comprehensive. Very serious people in very serious forums, not lampoons or satires, are spouting off all sorts of causes to rally around that really defy belief: security theatre has expanded to all sorts of absurdities that Americans can be bothered to heed. That's another morning in America.

Monday, 5 September 2011

silent haitch

Most sites and historic buildings are exceedingly well-documented, but good, living stewardship and repair does not always guarantee that the curious can find out more. A few weeks ago, H and I happened on this impressive old church with a colourful wooden interior and crypt in Thüringer Rohr in County Schmalkalden-Meiningen.
The style reminded me of churches we have seen along the Baltic coast, with its craftsmanship and artwork. A small sign proclaimed that the community was proud of this place, one of the oldest churches in Thüringen but there was little else in the way of a guide or reference. I was perfectly happy, though, in the end, for having seen it and getting to climb into the rafters and appreciating the details without explaination, letting it remain a mystery to outsiders.
It was really neat and the locals ought to be proud. This wizened sentenial was also a puzzle, and apparently a more recent addition that greets visitors. Considering that the work of conservationists is also prone to the tastes and tools of the time, such a monument itself has more enduring presense than any gloss or promotion about it.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

cloverfield 8

FACT: The nebulous and unseen primordial force of nature that destroys New York City (Cloverfield) in the film is actually a rampaging giant Liz Taylor.

Slate magazine has an absolutely brilliant and thorough literary analysis of John O’Hara’s classic novel, BUtterfield 8 (like the old telephone exchanges--PEnnsylvania 6-5000) which is set during the torrents of the Great Depression and Prohibition instead of the post World War II period of the screen-adaptation with a timeless Elizabeth Taylor, that uses the novel as a lens to gain an understanding of the current economic mood and reality. This state of unbalance, this limbo that policy-makers have suspended all hopes and fears over is an uneasy one. Ron Rosenbaum superbly explains how this novel explains the turning point and associated queasiness and questioning. A lot of academic energy has gone into trying to explain the causes of the last Great Depression and reasons why we are in the present Great Recession, rife with technicalities, parallels and the shifting of blame. History usually cannot be relied upon to repeat itself in a manner that presents simple and human solutions, but being able to access the environment and the struggles of select players, as well as the economic maneuvers, can be insightful.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

at the mountain of madness

Der Spiegel reports on the jest and dreams of a reporter that may well be championed as a national cause, a shared-ambition in flat Netherlands. I guess the Dutch have a yearning for a bit of variety in landscape or maybe mountain-envy, as evinced by how they invade Germany and points beyond during every holiday season. This image is a just a mock-up but planning is underway to construct an artificial peak, some 2000 meters high in the Dutch countryside. The article has a terrifically day-dreamy tone and apparently such aspirations have really captured the imaginations of the Netherlands. It certainly seems that they could assay such a feat of engineering, since much of the territory of the country was reclaimed from the sea. A man-made mountain would certainly be a wonder, but maybe not so amenable to travel abroad and the Netherlands' own points of relative high stature.

sancta sedes

 Later in the month, H and I will have an audience with the Pope when Benedikt pays a visit to his native Germany--this time holding Mass in parts of the former East Germany, which he has not done before. I had RSVP’d quite some time ago when I first heard the news and was very excited to get the tickets in the mail. It was not, however, just a confirmation of our invitation but rather like a whole press package for the Pope Benedikt XVI Experience. 
I will have to do some studying on the saints and practice genuflexing so I'm not all off rhythm and get yelled at or remediated by the bishops.  We are not VIPs with a back-stage pass (at least I don't think so), but the lanyards, badges and electronic tickets are pretty neat and I am sure it will be quite a special and singular experience.