Wednesday, 30 November 2011

cloudy gray times, you are now a thing of the past

The American Stock Market Panic of 1893 was overshadowed by the Great Depression during the interbellum and the hand-wringing of today, but notably was also precipitated by a bubble, in railroads--speculation and over-building led to too many trains and inability to profit and compete, and the first spectre of quantitative easing in the mandate for the US government to absorb the seigniorage (fiat) in backing up the Gold Standard with silver certificates and coin. The crisis was not defused until the discovery of gold reserves in the Klondike and the right-sizing of the transportation industry. These events inspired at least one Broadway melodrama called The War of Wealth by playwright Charles Turner Dazey in 1896. Though Dazey portrays economic turmoil and runs on banks portentously, insolvency did not really hit the financial system as a cause rather than an effect until the Panic of 1907, but I suppose few are interested in seeing the theatrics on Main Street, Wall Street or on Broadway.

holly, jolly and echo base

A clever Buzzfeed contributor (via the stupendous Neatorama) offered this wonderful holiday mash-up of the Empire Strikes Back and Rankin/Bass' cavalcade of Christmas specials. Abominable-Wampum surely won't be mean to the Misfit Jedi (Hermey the Elf wanted to be a dentist instead of a toy-maker) and his red-nosed Tauntaun steed.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

parts of speech

H and I used to hold (though the frequency was semi-legendary) German Days, when I struggle to communicate exclusively auf Deutsch. We really ought to get back into that practice, as the struggle and frustration is more memorable when it is more personable than conveying pleasantries with strangers or what I want left out of my meal at restaurants. One of the more challenging grammatical constructs, universally, are the prepositions (Präpositionen oder Lagewörter), owing that there are no set or predictable rules to follow and that the rules, framework of grammar was developed and committed to study long after the Germanic languages splintered.

German, I find, there is more difficulty and nuance in modifiers--whereas in English a plastic preposition might clang dissonant, the meaning is usually not lost, German words admit of differences in declension and mood that takes a precise preposition that communicates a more narrow relationship. The natives of Vanuatu (the Sandwich Islanders) after centuries of colonial shared rule by the British and the French, developed a creole to communicate with plantation owners and level out the dozens of different dialects and Pacific languages spoken in the area. The pidgin is called Bislama--from the French word for sea-cucumber, Seegurken or rather Bêche-de-mer, and is an evolving language, transposing English and French vocabulary on a mostly Pacific substrate of grammar. One of the features that struck me about this highly serviceable way of talking is the trend towards reduction and simplification. There is no conjugation of verbs but rather markers that indicate past or future tense, and most interesting, many prepositions and prepositional phrases have been replaced by the words "long" and "blong." Long can mean next to (neben, bei), by (von, mit, durch, an), at (im, in, auf, über), to (zu, nach, gegen), or in (in), and blong substitutes for the genitive case or simply the plastic English word of. I think I have adopted this sort of reduction, inadvertently, but I keep trying to become more fluent and it is constructive to be wrong and sloppy, as long as one does not settle on a plateau, and to see where speech diverges and comes together.

Monday, 28 November 2011

polity

Der Spiegel staff writer Georg Diez has an excellent, thoughtful portrait of German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas and his perception and understanding of the economic crisis threatening the institution of Europe. Lucidly and refreshingly, and with a unique sort of serenity for the audience who would listen, Habermas describes the move into post-democracy, post-sovereignty, where governments are driven by the whims of markets and day-traders--instead of commerce carried out all levels within the framework of civics. I have been trying to attack this argument on all fronts, calling the economic situation a hoax meant to perpetuate great game for its winners and to leech away the substance of public office, but Habermas has through discourse managed to encapsulate the sum of all dangers. He commends the media for its unrelenting coverage, some of which I would have stinted as fear-mongering and unreflective, but Habermas was also able to look beyond the pedestrian problems of corruption in politics and greed and recognize (and validate) a fear for a diminished public voice and politics disengaged when the legacies of whole peoples are chained together and bound by representatives that are unelected and not vetted with authority--no more referenda, plebisites (Volksentscheid) but rather everything decided by treaty and steerage and stock-brokers--in some cases, and would abandon the European ideal for finances.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

schwarzer freitag

After a disappointing and rather tiresome shopping foray (though I exaggerate the disappointment and I was feeling the imperative of gift-giving reinforced by a talk-radio psychologist's interview that compared exchanging gifts--from the people first on one’s list to co-workers, postmen, bosses--to the human need for communication), I stopped in a church on the way home. It was nearby and one that we had seen many times before, but always awe-inspiring to marvel at the high Mary Magdalene altar, with its gracefully-turned wooden antennae projecting to the ceiling. Just the suggestion of an impending holiday or sale draws great crowds to shops but the activity never turns uncivil or cut-throat, like the Black Friday sales tradition in the States. I certainly hope that trend never spreads, where one needs to be packing pepper-spray in order to get the best bargains, and I wonder what tacit message that gifts got under those competitive circumstances impart.
For a donation of a euro coin, one can have this whole apse illuminated and meditate on and marvel at the installation. The craftsman Tilman Riemen-schneider (DE/EN) was prolific and has commissions throughout this area. This work pictured from 1490-1492 represents some of his earliest creations and captures the transition from late Gothic to Renaissance style. In his day, as Bürgermeister of the city of Würzburg, Riemenschneider sided his own contemporary Occupiers, sympathizing with plight of the peasants during their revolt (Deutscher Bauernkrieg). Tragically, his support ended up costing Riemenschneider every thing, when his former patrons inprisoned and tortured Riemenschneider and other leaders of the movement in Marienburg Fortress in Würzburg, and broke his hands so he was unable to make any more art. Fortuneately, his distinct and beautiful creations are still around and continue to inspire, and mostly in situ and not confined to museums, the major exception being, ironically, the Festung Marienburg which now is a museum with a lot of examples of Riemenschneider’s art.

Friday, 25 November 2011

neugier or random walk

I tend to think the trending now sections of some web sites are pretty vacuous and off-putting, and whenever I glance a celebrity name, I always wonder who died, and I don't think that embedding a social media ticker, a feed that aggregates all and sundry over buzzwords yields much in the way of insight, an invitation to engage, or a point of departure for learning more. Those, I think, especially gum up the smooth operation of the internet. That being said, I do enjoy peeking at my own daily statistics, which Blogger compiles fairly astutely. Aside from visitors' locations and traffic sources, one also sees (without necessarily triangulating everything, but I suppose that's why there is a word from my sponsors on the side bar) the search terms that brought them there--mostly by accident rather than snare, I'm sure. Strange and funny combinations come up sometimes, and it is interesting to see how the apparent randomness is anything but, so I guess it's a good thing that I wrote about (some of) them and can maybe deliver what they were looking for.

  • donkeys in pajamas
  • heraclitus meme
  • architectural bird house
  • heisenberg vanity license plates
  • mri scan
  • christmas giraffe
  • euro eypo
  • confusing dial
  • cheese venn diagram

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

passivhaus

The poor old headquarters building where I work is a pretty solid structure, having been built to host another military force and having withstood several onslaughts, but is undergoing an eternal series of repairs and improvements that makes me wonder how much of the original construction is left, from flooring to re-wiring to support the paperless office of the future, to constant shuffling of workspaces, to vacillating (schwankend) on whether or not to gut the whole assembly over asbestos in the basement.

Now a crew of contractors is outfitting the exterior walls with insulation, and there are white shavings everywhere and wheel barrows (Schubkarren) of Styrofoam blocks being carted around, airy and insubstantial like theater props or the construction material of Doozers.  I can remember as a little kid having endless fun constructing elaborate bases of operation for GI*JOE and Star Wars Action figures out of the Styrofoam cases that household ceiling fans came in--and surely other appliances but fan boxes seemed to be the best with the most compartments.  The whole building is a nest of scaffolding, which is a more serious-looking undertaking than the usual maintenance and disruption, and having survived a few base-closures in Germany (RIFs, reductions in force, or de-basing as it is called OCONUS, outside the continental United States), major works make me a bit nervous, because such DiY improvements have been many times proven to be the procrastination of bad tenants to return their rental to the landlord in suitable condition. The US army in Europe is facing a new age of budget austerity too, but such contracts were awarded in the primordial past and even if the work is not the most fiscally responsible thing to do, the government (especially as a pseudopod of America overseas) could not renege on its promises. It is a noble effort, and homes and businesses alike should always strive to reduce their environmental footprint, however, those quartered and garrisoned are generally not treating where they work and live as gingerly as they would if they had to pay for the heating and electricity, even if the savings could be translated to something more immediately appreciable down the line. The process and intent is pretty neat but considering (and here the US Army may be living up to one of its many modus operandi--the house is on fire, we'll better take out the trash) that there has been a major electrical disruption, putting most of the base off the municipal grid, and the mundane and bureaucratic goings on have been powered by a monstrous diesel generator, the gesture may be just that.  Deferred rewards, of all types, have little appeal without consequences. I hope the next phase of refurbishments succeeds too in making us think about conservation in balance with preservation.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

winner, winner turkey dinner or klatu, barda, nikto

Should clear and irrefutable signs of extraterrestrial life suddenly be discovered, such a revelation would, I think, certainly diminish and relegate our less concrete worries to the pettiness they're born, though there's probably still a question in timing of such feats and people, whether they voice it or not: I'm sure there are some secreted thoughts about how this spoils the holidays, vacation plans, campaigns--private, unlike the extent the news would upset the social contracts between borrowers and lenders. It makes me think about the episode of the Grand Inquisitor in the Brothers Karamazov, when Jesus is rejected because His return is interfering with the mission of the Church. I'll bet that some households would find that sort of incident exasperating while trimming the tree. Aliens of course are not guaranteed to solve all our problems, and there's no evidence of imminent discovery, although this a big unknown factor--like unanticipated technological break-throughs (like the democratization that quality, affordable three-dimensional printing or some new property distilled from research at CERN--or the fact that no one can reconcile that there are planets made of diamond and asteroids made of gold just out of reach of the prospectors)--and new constellations of distant worlds are coming into sharper focus every day.  Given the potential for the foreign and unfamiliar, both as observers and possibly as the observed, wisely time and experiment has been invested in speculative, alternative biological chemistries so that scientists might not miss alien life when it presents itself. Abundance, valance--elective affinities, and chemical properties, solubility as well as solid-state performance are considered in all imaginable permutations, so as not to be guilty of chauvinism, even if the chance for interface and exchange seems to get less and less the more one diverges from the familiar. Maybe far-off extraterrestrial astronomers are dismissing Earth at this moment, seeing our home world as not even on the fringe of their Goldilocks Zone (EN/DE): too hot, too cold, too small, too large, too precarious and impermanent, exposed to the whims of a harsh and destructive universe. Just a little bit of mutual jingoism in science might make it impossible to recognize intelligence or even life.  Our bodies and biology, too, adapted to life on the inclement surface of a planet instead of the sheltering underground or under the oceans, bent and woven with specific gravity, would probably repulse a being that developed under different conditions and limitations as overly fragile or brute. I hope that there is no conspiracy to spare our planning the mortification of changing our priorities, but I also hope that we are not blinded by our chauvinism and attitude to richness and variety (off-world or otherwise) that's at the edge of discovery.

Monday, 21 November 2011

holiday creep or proscenium

It seems that Christmas decorations are being cast like a festive drag-net earlier and earlier each year, but I do wonder how much of that is reality and how much is perception: could any of this be governed by climate change and the global weirding, that does not just yield warmer weather but also seasonal (delays) creep and has natural patterns in theatrics and all off-kilter? German shops seem to have embraced a Christmas season spanning almost two months as well, but I wonder what's in the weather and what's in parallel holiday fatigue in the States.
Here, there's no intervening secular gathering like Thanksgiving that supposedly makes lights and festoonery more seemly, if one waits until afterwards. In Germany, there's general restraint and respect until after Totensonntag, a day set aside for remembering the departed, which falls on the Sunday before First Advent and whose celebration is driven by the calendar and what day of the week Christmas falls on.  Both Totensonntag and the Advent Calendar were originally Prussian-Lutheran inventions adopted later by the rest of Germany. I don't know if unseasonable weather compels people to decorate early, but decorations don't seem to jive with the prolonged Golden Autumn we're experiencing. H and I have not decorated yet, as such, but we did put up a length of rope lights from the basement and strung them behind the now sadly bare flower boxes (there was an early freeze but I imagine that the geraniums would be fine now otherwise). In the evening, illuminated by the footlights, I imagine that to the audience it looks like we are on stage.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

villa suburbana

Here is a stock bild (stock photo) of a Bildstock that I passed on one of my walks recently—it’s funny how one can find (real and not addle-brained) examples of inversions between German and English, like a Stillstand for a moratorium or a stand-still. These wayside shrines marking routes of pilgrimage are pretty common in this area, and I have always hoped to find a house with one of these on the property. H and I are continuing to look for a home of our own, off and on, and did recently visit this beautiful Italianate villa in a small town not far from Bad Karma that just came on the market.
Besides the awkward location that turned out to be a big disappointment in an overbuilt and crowded part of town and on a noisy thoroughfare (though I suppose one does get used to such things), it was really lovely and ideal.


The villa was called something like "Haus Kristal," in wrought-iron lettering, which I did not like so much, but I thought we could rename the property "Chez Roquefort." We’ll keep hunting and I bet we’ll find a place that causes no reservations of any sort.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

baby out with the bath water

There have certainly been some chilling exchanges between Germany and the United Kingdom over the UK’s peripheral participation in the European Union and (at least perceived) German insistence that if one is in for a penny, then one is in for a Pound--or rather the Pound Sterling ought to be retired in favour of the common euro zone currency. These tensions are not being distilled in the most helpful of ways, and given the way words and intent has been twisted and other consequences of membership dues (like Germany’s being privy to the Irish budget before Ireland's leaders saw it) and other overtures to Britain, I think it is not surprising to hear of such aversion and ire. The UK is a member of the EU and that partnership ought to be respected, and not just over potential obstinacy that would threaten any unanimous range of movement submitted to Brussels.
Both sides ought to realize the limits of reparations and accusations before diplomacy is exhausted as well: sacrificing national self-determination for the sake of monetary-security is as big a farce as the security-theatre of the absurd of the States. And although the old arrangements have been shown to be less than ideal and Europe’s true-believers have been given a great gift in the chance to re-think and re-build the framework of this cooperative, one should not be tempted to dismiss the overall health and well-being of the EU with such prejudice. Some are crying socialism and collectivism, very reminiscent I think of the harsh treatment and fear-mongering propagated by the opponents of Obamacare when they cited horror stories from the British NHS (National Health Service) as reasons to avoid socialized medicine, but in large parts of Europe, the people are seeing benefits from the taxes they contribute realized in affordable health-care, less gentrification, labour laws that protect the worker, preservation of heritage and the environment, rule of law without tolerance for corruption. The financial institutions that are ailing for the most part are limited to those that were over-extended in the American real-estate market and the imaginary numbers game of derivatives, Volkswagen is worth more in real assets than all of American auto manufacturers combined, and though employment and future prospects have sadly diminished in many places, there is great potential for recovery, should national entities only be able to deliver on their original promises. There is not, I think, so much outside pressure mandating change as restructuring for competition, enforcement of regulation (taxation) and growth, within reason. There's already enough crap in the world to satisfy any consumer (though possibly not at the right price), but the de-industrialization of the world's former factories (the US and the UK have grown a bit shrill in their criticism along with moving to a service-based economy) had nothing to do with a grand-anti-consumerism movement and more to do with greed.
Countries that retained their manufacturing sector continue to enjoy economic health and good levels of employment all around--not to over-simplify matters and not to disparage those nations that have picked up the slack with the outsourcing and off-shoring of corporate colonialism, tasked nominally with the production and export of things out-of-proportion with their own needs, means and tastes. It is not just the cars, planes, computers, etc. but also the management and control in line with demand and the dirty part of the business that leaves a mess to clean up: increased demand and improvements in standards of living has not pushed the tolerance of the environment to unseen heights but the struggle to maintain profit and productivity has. Remanded to one's own backyard, manufacturing and the challenge to do it all better and within one's neighbourhood imperatives, I believe, to mend the environment and the economy. National branding won't heal rifts nor will it safeguard statehood but maybe without the artificial threats of endless debt and austere futures, nations can resume talking about what works and what hasn't and without entendre and vitriol.

Friday, 18 November 2011

fiat

Since the end of World War II and the Bretton Woods Conference for the promotion of open markets, there have been about thirty dissolutions of monetary unions (around seventy if one counts trade associations and related pacts) around the world, and while some break-ups were due to revolution or were superseded by other currencies, many of the terminations were voluntary and in recognition that conditions have changed. Despite the magnitude of the moment that the European common currency has, partners taking leave is not a new or rare thing. The European Union and Europe is about more than just money--and after all, that's all this is, not the end of the world. The euro is worth the effort (without judging the means and extremes taken) to preserve the balance of plurality and individuality that it represents. Though bankers and politicians rather campaign on legacies and steady-states, humans have an extraordinary capacity for adapting to change and privation (some of which in the realm of possibilities could be to the greater good) and we should not forget our native gifts that have grown a bit repugnant to regime and business, whose framework of custody and profit might render us all helpless.


Seit Ende der zweiten Weltkrieg und der Bretton Woods-Konferenz (für die Förderung von offene Märkte), hat ungefähr 30 internationale Währungsunionen (ohne die Gewerkschaftsverbanden und Bunds zu zählen) aufgelöst. Während die Spaltungen aufgrund eines Revolution oder einer Nachfolgewährung, wurden viele Kündigungen freiwillig. Trotz der Größe und Komplexität der aktuelle Situation in Europa, Auflockerung ist nichts neu oder selten. Der EU ist nicht nur Geld--es geht ja nur um Geld und keinen Weltuntergang. Das Euro wert ist zu retten (ohne Rücksicht auf die Maßnahme) um die richtige Balance zwischen Souveränität und Gruppenarbeit willen. Banken und Politiker bevorzugen Stabilität, obwohl Menschen haben ein natürliches Talent für Veränderung und Einschränkungen. Die Wende könnte zum gröberen Wohl das Volk ergeben, und es sollte nicht vergessen werden, dass wir haben solcher Anpassungsfähigkeit trotz den Minuspunkte bei Wirtschaft und Politik.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

les trois perdants or suspension of belief

There are at least three news items vying for dominance and, I think, the vogue of cognitive dissonance has gained more than just a foothold of priorities over the past months--maybe as it ever was, struggling and causing disbanding as well as diluting native abilities to identify distraction from the real pith and moment. In no particular order, the latest triumvirate consists of 1) the US military embassy re-establishing a consular presence in the Pacific, a contingent of Marines stationed in Australia, evidently as a counter-measure for Chinese influence in the region (EN/DE);
2) the punitive, aggressive down-grading of German state public sector lenders (Landesbanken) by a major credit-rating agency (EN/DE)--ostensibly because the German government would be able to vouch for all their liabilities (and these public institutions should not be let off lightly for venturing into risky, speculative areas and gambling indirectly with tax-payers' money) but in reality probably to pressure Germany towards privatization (and under their own purview) of these financial bulwarks by the supra-national union of bankers and deprive not only civic and charitable organizations a lending source but also the politicians some grace-and-favour leverage and authority, and, I think, only more proof of how else money can be weaponized and turned against self-determination; and 3) the re-vitalization of the occupation movements spurred, apotheosized, ironically by evictions on Wall Street and elsewhere, which, truth be told had probably dimmed a bit over the past weeks, an eternity in the life-cycle of a sit-in, with a message and action. Such a triple-threat as this is not orchestrated and conspired but take any three headlines and try to see if one is not the natural consequence or the more advanced expression of the others, projecting from a safe distance what history might make of these daily preoccupations.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

you used to ride on your chrome horse with your diplomat

This morning on the drive into work, I was listening to the news in the background, not really paying attention to it. The anchor was reporting on the broad field of Republican presidential candidates for next year’s election in the States, and garbled the name of a former top US diplomat who apparently had been offered in jest a cabinet position, his old post, in the administration.
The reporter named Secretary of State--Außenminister(in)--Hillary Kissinger as having reacted graciously and with good humour to the proposal. That would be a strange mash-up of policies and missions that I can’t even begin to imagine (but would make some good speculative fiction), much less the message and logistical feasibility having reinstating such a figure would entail.

nazca or man in the moon


Until a couple years ago when satellite charting services started paying attention to the ocean and the ocean’s floor, it seemed like our educational system was really failing, since 99% of school children could not locate Atlantis on a map. It turned out the apparent submerged roadways and building foundations were shadows and optical illusions (pareidolia, like the Face on Mars) but the excitement at least increased the awareness of some people. Perhaps, ultimately, the strange, man-made patterns appearing in China’s remote Gobi Desert will present the same lesson. It’s mysterious, kind of like the Nazca Lines of Peru, but barring what’s classified or secreted away (surely a fresh sweep is allowed over Iranian and Chinese ambitions but not over Area 51), one will probably be able to divine their purpose, whether defensive or experimenting with new ways of producing energy or drawing water out of a salty aquifer discovered beneath the desert. Before such powerful telemetry became available, the Great Wall of China was considered the only man-made structure "visible" unaided from orbit: I wonder if that distinction is still meaningful when all skyward features, down to the smallest detail, are visible for public scrutiny and imagination.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

utopian gesture

More toxic yet, I believe, than politicians and their squabbles, though sometimes and in some places they are genuine and productive--the growing pains of democracy and inclusion--but mostly rightly adjudged as corrupt and self-interested, is the attitude, best exemplified in the sentiment of American Exceptionalism and the unsinkable promises and aspiration to maintain the chauvinism and clout of days and decades past (but the USA does not have a monopoly on hubris nor is the USA alone with her illusions of perpetuating institutions as they are). Despite what the prophets of doom are preaching, Europe and America are secure and can provide for their people, but dominance and even identity (tradition within bounds but also grandeur and influence out of proportion) have been supplanted by business and the bets that dictate the limits of sway and how far one can involve or distance oneself.  Crafters of State ought to recognize whether the effort expended is bent on re-capturing old glories--manifest destiny and merry old England, preserving values and norms, or if all that energy is re-directed towards making the landscape favourable for business that knows no borders, cultural or political.  National arrogance, insistent and potentially seductive, is dangerous enough on its own in any context but has the capacity for more damage when aims of peace and true prosperity are edged out by trade and economic demands that would preserve institutions (the topography) at any cost, delusional and empires without end.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

hippocrates

Though I am not one to easily repair to medication or the doctor's office when sick, especially wary of highly synthesized and prepared potions that claim to have a surgical aim but whose chemistry in reality is not so precise and whose rolling shock-and-awe goes after the body's responsiveness rather than the cause, masking the pain.  Sometimes, however, recovery needs some help and haste, and the German attitude towards sickness, rather than my general aversion to drugs, does default to home-remedies and conventional wisdom as a first and usually effective result.  The last thing I want to do when sick is stew in a hot bath or drink some sippy tea or a steamy hot beer, though like one forgets pain and sometimes expects to feel even better than before one can proclaim oneself better or cured, I tend to be doubtful and do not remember how effective simple steps were before.  Though I do not know the governing guidelines behind this practice, if doctors and apothecaries alike are schooled in detecting hypochrondria or Münchausen syndrome and discerning it from the real thing, I understand that when one does need to seek out store-bought medication (and all things, even as innocuous as asprin and antacid are distributed not in filling stations and supermarkets but rather through one's friendly neighbourhood pharmacy, and dispensed with a dose of expert advice) a significant amount of medication given out (with and without a prescription) are placebos.  There was an additional bit of psychology with my last visit to the apothecary when I got my generic yet potent medication: the woman behind the counter agreed with my assessment that the drugs should help and said I ought to take three pills a day but also warned it was potentially serious and if I was not better after the weekend, I should see a doctor.  I am sure that astute bluff scared me into remission.

what is that new country-code, top level internet domain for obamastan?

The United States Congress is poised to pass yet another regulation that will severely curtail creative expression and make the make internet a more impoverished place. H, earlier in the week, spend some time at the footlights of one of Germany’s bigger entertainment awards ceremonies, by coincidence, and was in close proximity to some of young darlings of pop music that were not only discovered through the internet, were continuously promoted, aggressively disallowed to sink into obscurity, by the same medium, at a time when monotony of the radio just does not cut it anymore.

And it made me wonder how those celebrities, though already made and secure, might feel about the chances of the future artists they hope to inspire, when, if such trends succeed, everyone would have to go through a very litigious checklist before posting or sharing anything, if they can even find a forum to host it in the first place. The proposal, drafted and sailed through legislation is of course sponsored by an entertainment industry that knows no shame, dark and divorced from their product and producers (actors, actresses and artists), would not only protect, hermetically seal, both stale and inviolate renditions by making it a crime to cover, parody or re-mix the copyrighted work of another, the industry with the support of the American government would gain broad and arbitrary (without appeal or recourse) to shut down large swathes of the internet for infringement. Of course, every host would recede at the merest threat. So much for derivative talent and inspiration, but then, one might expect that this change might promote the truly original and talented, without acknowledging that the most productive practice comes from revisiting the classics. That hope is also dashed by this legislation, however, because there are yet more insidious parts to this bill: alternative and independent news sources would be edged out, because citing or referencing the copy of mainstream sources would need to be vetted through permissions and licensing—for each and every link and citation. There would be no more American Wikipedia, though seeking hosting outside of the bill’s jurisdiction is becoming more and more attractive. Even enriching the internet with original art and information with blogging could be made prohibitive, because the bill strongly encourages private contributors to register their works with a media clearing-house, so their unwanted patron can determine how their work is shared and held in trust. The whole world is hoping that Americans do not go quietly down that dangerous path, but given the political will in general there and the practices that have eroded privacy in the name of security, maybe the best the world can hope for is that this trend does not spread and other countries can play the gracious host.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

warnschuss, coup de semonce or disconfirmed expectancy

One should not forget that Europe as a personality or playable character is something ultimately derived from a Greek myth (EN/DE), and not a very happy or pleasant one at that. While there is trouble going on in the lands of the Classics, France too in its capacity as a leader in the European Union’s coregency with Germany in fixing the currency is seeing its woes compounded. A major credit rating agency made known by mistake and perhaps prematurely the downgrading of France’s credit-worthiness. I am sure that the functionaries at such institutions always have such press-releases cocked, especially when it is a real and strategic possibility, and ready, like the morbid job of obituary writers who constantly update the curriculum vitae of celebrities, so their newspaper can be first and timely in case one should leave us unexpectedly.

Still, intention or accident, the damage has been done—for those who put faith in the opinions and prognosis of such offices, and besides sewing doubt in France’s surety, makes Germany more unilateral and obligated. Perhaps France could capitalize and restore the same weighted-credibility with a more modern myth (a strange draw recently featured in Atlas Obscura): the village of Bugarach in the Aude Department, between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, is being invaded by thousands, and possibly as 31 December 2012 draws closer, thousands more, because some believe that it will be spared the Doomsday Event, interpreted by one take on a Mayan calendar.
French authorities, however, are doing the responsible thing and down-playing the hysteria, and the agency MIVILUDES (an acronym that translates into something like Mission to Combat and Monitor Cult Deviancy) have been quashing publicity and have the whole area under surveillance. Believers cite the location of the village along the Green Meridian (the line of longitude that runs through Paris and long time rival of the Greenwich Meridian for reference in navigation and world time) and the unusual geography and tectonics of the Pyrenees that makes the tops of mountains here old than their bases as reasons for gathering there. Yesterday, with the confluence of elevens, I was thinking about prophesy and prediction and how strange it seems to try to resolve, synchronize calendars, clocks and time-zones, and I suppose the location of that real-estate is sold on terms as convincing as the judgment of creditors.

Friday, 11 November 2011

elevensies

Quirks of the calendar are certainly something to take notice of, especially when one considers how these days were ordained, pre-determined since the beginning of time, driven by calendar-reforms, the base of our numbers systems, and other events. Today, I read in the paper, an area, in Germany where it is also the Feast Day of Saint Martin when geese are rounded-up and devoured like turkeys on Thanksgiving for giving away the reluctant saint's whereabouts to Church authorities and children parade with paper lanterns, holding a nighttime vigil, brother and sister (twins) are celebrating their eleventh birthday. Patterns tend to rise above the din, but that's really a story in itself to mark this day.  What would your story be?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

entente or cabbages and kings

Despite all the talk and headlines beguiling with strong language and hyperbole that is more fitting of events decades ago and lasting centuries, it cannot be said too often how European peace and integration, the common-currency too being part of that grand experiment, is a remarkable achievement, transcending very real and recent battlefield traditions that are not at all metaphorical. States and political personalities are still players but self-determination (brilliantly or dimly reflected in diplomacy and policy) and inclusiveness, not uneasy peace brokered by strategic marriages or segregated sentiment, have drafted this framework for stability and cooperation. Unpleasantries (Unannehmlichkeiten) aside, the potential loss or gain wagered on the success of the pact that is European identity and relevance, is not the kinetic energy that comes of this alliance and continued partnership. Whatever parts of this formula are not working, rather than racing and raging to support some other defunct system--a self-perpetuating and shared-delusion, members of the EU are unencumbered to change (independent and so far as greed and vanity allow) and resolve.
Financial speculation and prospecting are not ripping Europe asunder and stoking misgivings, as colourfully and graphically as the same headlines would portray these powers, but greed and fear, inelastic, make for short tempers in negotiation and would squarely remove protected and respected cultural differences to the immature tyranny of the stock markets--and the vision of the Treaty of Rome was not to replace sceptre, sword and mitre of kings with seigniorage and adoubement of banks. For Armistice Day, one should recall not only the difference between squabbling and war but also where we came from and where we want to go.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

heurism or green fairy/blue tooth

9 November marks Inventors' Day (Tag der Erfinder) in the German Sprachraum. Perhaps coincidentally--perhaps not, the local's Swiss edition featured an article earlier in the week of Swiss inventions, which in addition to milk chocolate, the Helvetica font, and the Swiss army knife, include Velcro, LSD and absinthe. The occasion, purposed to encourage people to pursue their own ideas and remind people about the forgotten and unsung innovators, is observed on 9 November because of the birthday of Austrian actress and Erfinderin Hedy Lamarr, in recognition of her 1942 discovery of frequency hopping spread spectrum technique that eventually enabled the development of cellular telephony and Bluetooth technologies.

matchbox or go-go-gadget brella

Though it's not at all tempting, given the unpleasant and cramped interior and strange odours, to violate these rules and host a roller derby, there is an unloving notice on the outside wall of the lobby of our post-office stating that food and drink and roller blades are prohibited in that facility. I wonder if people still go skating--sometimes one sees older people with Nordic walking sticks (ski poles) zipping, slaloming along the trails but not so often, and one hardly ever encounters young people biking or skating outside the compulsion of a family outing. It's a little sad--the sign might as well say no hula-hooping and no pogo-balls as well--I think we've not only been kept too safe, with the occasional foray into extreme double-dutch or see-saw record-breaking attempt, coordinated via flash-mobs, but also gotten use to having nothing out of arm's reach and fully-integrated.  I ought to organize an impromptu kazoo evening of chamber music in the mailroom lobby and pogo-stick ballet.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

a series of tubes

The presidents of Russia and of Germany, who are both overshadowed by their Premier and Chancellor respectively, symbolically opened the valve on the Nord Stream pipeline close to the community of Lubmin in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern near the Inlet of Griefswald. This installation will bring natural gas from the fields of Siberia directly to German and Western Europe.
Of course no one would tolerate an intrusive bulldozing through the region, but environ-mentalists are concerned that this addition along with other power-houses in the area could upset the delicate ecology of the surrounding Baltic Sea. Lubmin, I see, formerly constituted part of the monastic holdings of Cloister Eldena, whose ruins we visited last summer on our rambling adventures up and down the Ostsee coast. The beauty and history of this region is protected with more vehement sensibilities than those that survey the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (in Alaska, shortened to “anwar”) or the tar-sands of Canada, but recipients of this energy should not be complacent about the business at the far end of this pipeline, nor ignorant of the need for more and more power that is driving this arrangement. It is a strategic and clean partnership by all appearances that has been well engineered and executed, but both sides should still be mindful of the limits of these resources and the environment’s threshold of forgiveness and look towards new energy and technologies.

little golden book or mihi causas memora

Virgil’s epic the Aeneid, the founding story of the Roman Empire that began with a lieutenant’s escape from burning Troy, carrying his infant son, Ascanius, in his arms and his elderly father, Anchises on his back, as well as a bundle of household gods, wandering journey from Phrygia to Italy, battles with the Latins and eventual status as forbearer of the Roman people, presents a rich allegory, with some powerful, contemporary points of correspondence (for what it’s worth, as the latest tragedies are not, in the grander scheme of adventure and mythological, really all that legendary) with the current Greco-Roman marketplace.

It is remarkable how cultural tenants migrate and are adopted and re-imagined, like gods and heroes both transplanted and devised. The Church and State of the Romans is not just derivative of the culture and learning that the Greeks, nor it is a fair characterization that a Roman exodus realized the more perfect expression of Greek accomplishment. Art, artifice and traditions transmitted certainly do evolve and have become a frenzy of norms and nomos, but are more than just spillage, contagion and viral ideas. Money and trade tend to simplify and compartmentalize matters that have grown beyond all public bounds, yet are smaller and more personable as ever they were. Italy’s burgeoning crisis of confidence is not some impossible Hydra but rather nothing more than a relatively strong (third largest in Europe, compared to Greece, which has the industrial output of the German state of Hessen) economy called stagnant because growth (exports, consumer demand, investment sleight-of-hand) has failed to keep pace with borrowing’s legacy of interest payments. Endless regulation and stimulus (coaxing, invention—if honest) cannot do much for contentedness and thrift. That chimera, a new mythological foe, is something that a lot people the world are coming to face but it is no burden borne over the Aegean.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

heresy or wash your mouth out with soap

Generally, I don’t ascribe to the latest fads or scares in health and hygiene, though I do tend to be skeptical about the utility over marketing and salesmanship of most products and I am usually captivated by the ideas that present reduction and disenchantment with conventional wisdom and the vaunted over-the-counter industries. Some time ago, H shared with me a tract circulating the internet, I’m sure, about tooth care, and I took the prescribed regiment rather seriously because the researcher (who I am sure could also share a lot of conspiracy theories about the fluorine in tap water—I could as well) was not trying to sell anything or get one to radically change his or her routine, like freeganism or the anti-soaps league.
I tried and stuck with it, not be too vain about my teeth and questioning if anything should be brilliantly and unnaturally white—I found the tobacco and coffee stains tolerable, but since I exchanged red wine for beer and tried to combat the discolouration with aggressive, daily flossing, I could tell that I was doing damage to my gums and enamel. The researcher maintains that the teeth can heal themselves (we tend to forget that one’s biology is mostly smarter than we are, despite our micro-managing of the affairs of our mouths and skin) and the biggest obstacle against repair is angry teeth-brushing with tooth-paste. The glycerin in all toothpaste, which makes it foam up, sort of suffocates one’s mouth because it does not rinse away. Instead, the researcher recommends that one use a bar of plain soap and take vitamin C and calcium supplements. That getting rid of a chemical coating might make all the difference struck me at first like the fallacy of moisturizers for one’s skin--nothing of the fancy ingredients and nutrients are absorbed into one’s skin, nor would we really want them to be. I must say that my gums were very sensitive at first and I had a few painful mouth ulcers at first, and I wasn’t seeing results after just two weeks, as promised, but six weeks later, my gums do look healthier with no latent pain and the stains have been bleached away to a large extend, even some of the swaths of decay look like they have sloughed off. Dental health is important and hopefully people won’t follow quackery, but as with most matters of taking care of oneself, there is no magic potion and a lot of what is being peddled does little more than mask underlying problems and perpetuates the business of health-care.

Friday, 4 November 2011

heisenberg or frisch gestrichen

The New York Times' technology blog has a post covering significant recent changes being released that redirect the traffic flow of the internet on the approach from the biggest and most ubiquitous internet search engine. After first changing its parameters a few months back so as to not so easily fall for website spam--pages that capitalize and snare hits with words popular searches but are hollow and without content, in addition to continual fine-tuning, parameters and rules in favour of freshness, timeliness, I suppose over other criteria like brute popularity or possibly definitiveness.

These structural changes, of course, which in turn molds and models the internet itself, being a repository also but immediately the sum of what seekers find and share, refer to something called an internet search algorithm. Knowing that an algorithm is not a formula or a mathematical proof but rather describes a set of rules, like a dogma (no one can hold all of the important tenants of belief or affiliation in his or her head all at once and at all times)--a rule of thumb that for all practical intents and purposes becomes something absolute and infallible (ex cathedra and within itself) given how many processes the computer-aided human mind can summon, brute and making the finite applicable for as far as one cares to extend infinity to. A lot of things taken as a rule are calculated with such heavy-handedness, and apparently one reason that the mainstream search engine are making the change is pressure from social networking platforms that have made freshness, instant and incessant updating customary. If search results are arbitrated truth, one wonders what tweaking is improvement and what is pandering over precision and bias.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

flower drum song

A few weeks ago, our neighbour, sharing the plot of a crime-thriller that she was excited to plow through (auf englisch), asked if I had read any Günter Grass--and I think, enjoyed literature in general. She named off Die Blechtrommel, and I said that I had heard of that one, translating it "The Tin Drum Song," like Flower Drum Song, which is something, I think, completely different.
Since that exchange I had been a little obsessed about finding a copy and investigating it. Finding this vintage edition (1962) from our library, I remembered, vaguely, the cover illustration and think that there was a copy among my families books growing up. The story is intoxicating and is the perfect expression of the genre of magical-realism, which too is all about remembering and the supernatural talent of recalling what can't be recollected.
In translation, I am plowing through this saga as well. The cover image of the prodigious Oskar Matzerath also reminded me of another household artifact, though, this plate, I believe, was a much later acquisition. The novel promises to be a story that one incorporates, perhaps, anticipating the whole of it before the end, like a natural, musical progression or a consonant chord.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

begrudge report

Quietly, and I am sure gratefully for some detractors to escape critical eyes and public debate, Palestine's ascension to the United Nations' UNESCO body (Gremium) has slipped away post-hast from the headlines and perhaps the public's attention.

While this awarding of membership that took place in Paris under split auspices does not recognize Palestine's full statehood, it does acknowledge their strife and strive and open up avenues towards membership in more UN institutions. Perhaps, if motives and agendas were bared for all to see, it was not diplomatically correct or expedient to force UN politics with petitioning to join what is primarily regarded as a cultural organization, but the attention on the detractors should not be excused with such interpretations and Palestine's membership marks an important first step. America, Germany and others voted their reservations, calling membership premature and perhaps counter-productive, but having let their stance be known, should have then been willing to engage Palestine as a partner, and not, as America has done, tried to delegitimize the whole body by begruding its membership dues. UNESCO, more famous as the accrediting agency for tangible culture, also does significant and important work (including within America, and no one is even asking what treasures Palestine holds) in promoting education and protecting the intangibles, which America's decision threaten and appear counter-productive and calculated.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

demos

One of the great things about memes going viral, modular and remixed and remixed, is that that creativity is channeled into a sort of choose one’s own adventure type story. One template is pretty much accepting of any theme or expression. The same is true for democracy, a very Greek invention. Introducing this pomegranate (Granatapfel) of accepting the money and the terms of the euro-bailout fund as a ballot measure, a referendum for the voters of Greece, was an unexpected but necessary move. It is not quite accurate to compare the plight of Greece with that of Argentina’s decision to default on its loans years hence, since although both could survive this choice, Argentina was not part of a currency union, and the vox populi may well out-shout any usury and further anything more to do with membership in the European Union. The Greek people and future generations are going to be the ones who have to deal with the consequences (equally unenviable, it seems) of default or grand-receivership.

best in show or PR's PR award

The small oberbayerisch town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm beat out some 376 communities worldwide in its size category (populations of 20,000 to 75,000) to win the International Award for Livable Communities (LivCom) for 2011, presented in Seoul. Among the criteria rated were neighbourliness, city-planning, future-orientation, and environmental stewardship, and Pfaffenhofen's score impressed the jury. While I do not question the rigour and distinction of this honour, these sort of trade-show mavens seem to wander towards recursiveness and idiosyncrasy.
While waiting on queue to go up in the Berlin Fernseherturm earlier this year, the panorama along the interior walls not only illustrated and compared the tallest buildings and towers in the world, but also mentioned that the television tower was a member of the International Association of Tall Structures. I wonder if some of these contest also tend in that direction. I want to visit Pfaffenhofen and see for myself what a world-class livable city is like, and I am sure it does have excellent civil-planning that might be a good model for others, as I imagine that the city's residents can attest to as well, but without context and tradition (and Pfaffenhofen surely has history but those details do not seem to be competing against its latest bourgeoisie plaudit), I do wonder how much of winning was a strong marketing and public-relations campaign that isn't just in it for the recognition. After all, the life of communities is generally more than can be reflected in a single honour, though that is no small achievement.

mister sandman or traumhalf

A few weeks ago, Boing Boing, had a small item about the United States Army Medical Command's ambitions to treat soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) by applying dream-therapy techniques and implanting the seeds of ideas, as portrayed in the film Inception. Though there will be no dream secret-agents and ninjas, the research and development firm taking this project on might make for some interesting studies in lucid-dreaming and twilight-sleep, using specific virtual stimuli to counteract the recurring and debilitating nightmares associated with shell-shock and the horrors of the battle field. The decision to prosecute war should never be taken lightly and we ought not to gloss over these hard choices by editing out the bad and uncomfortable aspects of it, like surrendering the fight to autonomous death drones, but the potential, if administered well and the unexpected is entertained, for one to work through his dreams does seem a bit more productive and genuine than invasive, exculpating drug therapies.