Saturday, 31 December 2011

never brought to mind or party likes it's the year 1932

François the head is certainly ready to party. Daily Mail writer Dominick Sandbrooke presents an interesting, though rather bleak and depressing, article paralleling the political and economic framework of the year to come with that dark period eighty years ago.

The analysis is not a condemnation or pronoun-cement of doom but does offer some stark similarities in mood and faith that are in turn some stark warnings. Though I think when there is profit to be made from social anxieties and fearful portrayals it is hard to escape corporate and media traps, the world, I think, will not go down the same path. There has been an embarrassment (embarrassment as a unit of measure, like the cup of kindness that we all share as well) of disappointment and discouragement, but rather than bringing the world to the brink of chaos, maybe positive things will come of this frustration--a backlash that steamrolls injustice, avarice and gentrification. Predictions are notoriously difficult to make, and perhaps now that Mr. Sandbrooke has put his reporting out there, though he never posed it as anything more than a question, a possibility, maybe he has jinxed it, our future guarded from all cheerless best-guesses. We can resist the influence-peddlers and propagandists and make this coming year a bright one, though hope and pride both humble before the lessons of history.

siss boom bah!

Around here, people are really keen on heralding the new year with explosive volleys of private fireworks displays, and H and I are looking forward to doing the same at midnight. It is a wild and lawless moment in the year, but it does not happen completely in a regulatory vacuum as the noisy and colourful celebrations might suggest. Like the officious vestments of the Carnival Kings and Queens, there is an agency that oversees the safe and orderly execution of these neighbourhood rallies, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und prüfung (kurz BAM). Despite the wide and potent variety of Silvester fireworks available at any grocery store, there is still a market for smuggling in even bigger and more powerful (and unsafe) explosives from eastern Europe. The BAM, under its new safety campaign "Kein Boom! ohne BAM!" (No boom without BAM!), has intercepted some particularly dangerous sounding cargo: rockets that shoot up to forty metres in the sky with a battery to power the second stage, which can launch the fireworks another forty metres.
Aside from the risk it could pose at such heights to aircraft, apparently the second-stage ignition is unreliable and as likely to fire off the rocket another forty metres horizontally or straight back into the ground. Though such revelry is tolerated only at New Year’s, maybe the practice ought to be expanded, as a way to keep the middle-distance of the sky free of the coming aerial drone race, when corporations and law-enforcement, encouraged by drone-manufacturers, get in on the patrolling, and there are traffic-control drones, meter-maid drones, news reporter drones, ambulance-chasing drones, etc. I hope such patrols don’t come with the new year,  but maybe the booms, bangs and bams can chase away those bad portents too. In the meantime, we’ll celebrate and have some fun. Happy New Year! PfRC wünscht allen ein besonders frohes neues Jahr und guten Rutsch!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

like disco lemonade

This is just a personal reflection, but I thought it was significant, driving home and listening to the radio, that I did not include any accom-plishments in the arts in the PfRC year-end revue. I wanted to remember the talents that have passed on, artists, innovators and visionaries whose departure has left the world poorer--like Amy Winehouse, Steve Jobs, Loriot, Andy Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor and Václav Havel and dozens of others, separately and I did see a bunch of enjoyable movies this past year and heard some contemporary music that was good, funny and clever--although, more often than not, it was the classics, as with the music in the car on the way home from work, a solid block of cult hits from the 80s and 90s between Christmas and New Year’s with some refreshingly choice and nostalgic songs--I had not heard Ryan Paris’ bouncy Dolce Vita in years and years or even Marcy Playground from when I was in college (and I know that reference dates me, as it does for those whom lived through more exciting times). I would not condemn everything modern as forgettable and unoriginal, as some do, but it was strange that nothing registered. It is just maybe indicative of the age that talent is retiring and that many new works are inspired by and derivative of the past, the memorable, resounding and catchy mostly created and polished by a thousand anonymous talents with know-how, heart or a trust.

year end fall-in or out with the old

It's hard to believe that Aught-Twelve is nearly upon us. 2011 was a wild ride globally and 2012 surely is successor to the these upheavals and redefined envelopes of comfort, with a few cushions for the more jarring happenstances, and will undoubtedly have surprising and serendipitous developments of its own.
The archivists and historians are tasked with giving a thoughtful and complete recollection of the year’s file, and here are a few events (by no means complete or exhaustive) that I thought were particularly noteworthy, from the vantage point of the calendar:

January – The revolutionary movement that would become known as the "Arab Spring" began in earnest with escalating civil unrest in Tunisia that lead to the abdication of the country’s long-time ruler. The movement grew and more tyrants were toppled—including Egypt and Libya, like the cavalcade of caricatures from Phil Collins' Land of Confusion music-video, making deposits, regional and elsewhere nervous—on either extreme, either charitable or more prone to crack-down on insurrection, and squarely saddling the freedom fighters with the responsibilities of democratic governance.

February – Suriname becomes the first country to formally recognize the state of Palestine, which is later in the year admitted as a member of UNESCO, causing the US to withhold its dues to the UN fund in protest. The Wikileaks diplomatic cables dump alleged accomplice, Bradley Manning, was found to have been held in solitary confinement for over seven months at the time, without being charged or provided with the opportunity to seek counsel--a development that was roundly criticized. IBM’s artificial intelligence Watson competed on the American quiz show Jeopardy! against some of the game’s top human contestants.

March – Japan's north east is decimated by a strong tsunami, driven by an equally strong and devastating earthquake. Damage and disruptions subsequently led to partial melt-downs of coastal nuclear reactor units. Sympathy and hysteria spread all over the world, and fears of radioactive poisoning and for the security of power-plants in general cause many people to reevaluate their nuclear programmes. Germany, as a result, brought many reactors off-line immediately and will execute a complete moratorium within the next two decades.

April – A monstrous storm system battered extensive parts of the US south and mid-west—all as part of the year that seemingly broke the weather, extensive flooding follows. The American military is deployed to the border with Mexico, partially in response to increased incidents of gang violence seeping into the US. NATO forces aid Libyan rebels in overthrowing Qaddhafi, cornering him and supporters to a few strongholds.

May – A team of US Special Forces locate and kill Osama bin Laden in a compound in Pakistan. The US dollar continues to lose value against global currencies as the repercussions of the burst housing market are still being realized. The EU, amid ongoing financial coming-clean and protests against austerity measures from Spain, Greece and Italy, approved a prophylactic bailout loan for Portugal, to staunch the panic. Drought conditions not seen in two decades cause widespread famine throughout Africa.  Queen Elizabeth II makes the first official visit of the monarchy to the Republic of Ireland since independence was declared. The latest in a series of predicted raptures did not occur.

June – Tension grows stemming from street protests in the UK, Spain and Greece over proposed economic austerity measures, including cuts in social services and raising the retirement age, meant to balance national budgets. Hundreds of extrasolar planets are being discovered, piquing the imagination and broadening scientific horizons. Unemployment and stagnant business growth continue to haunt the United States, as insults are swapped as aspirants are preparing for the presidential election session.

July – NASA and the US government retire the Space Shuttle programme, hoping that, laissez faire, private industry will close the science chasm that has left Russia and ESA scrambling to service. Norway was visited by a horrific domestic terrorist attack. There were bouts of courage and bravery in this tragedy, which was not perpetrated by the usual suspects, religious radicals that fit the profile of our stereotypes, but rather by a lone individual trying to punctuate his conservative and xenophobic ideas. Europe’s lurching towards more socially conservative platforms became a much discussed topic, in response to the earlier best-seller status of a tract assaulting integration by Thilo Sarrazin, the pronouncement by Angela Merkel herself that "multi-culti" has failed, and the killing spree by a band of neo-nazis that went under the radar and all but unnoticed for months among other emerging trends.

October – The UN announced that the world’s population has just surpassed seven billion people. Credit rating agencies continue their reign of terror, nudging markets this way and that with their verdicts on credit-worthiness. Italian Wikipedia shuts down in response to proposed changes in national copyright and fair-use laws that would severely curtail how the site could operate—prescient of a similar maneuver later in the US to denude the internet. The UK is gently sidling away from EU participation over fear-mongering of German overlordship, and this creep will express itself later with more heated exchanges and a repairing towards nationalism and protectionism.

November – Greece and Italy get new leadership over failed stewardship of their economies. Before resigning, Silvio Berlusconi releases a record album of himself crooning love songs. Thousands of students descend on London, angered over tuition hikes. Other Britons shudder over the first steps in privatization of public health care schemes. Police in New York forcibly clear Occupy Wall Street protesters after months of rallies, but the movement has spread to urban-centres world wide. Doctors and engineers develop a 3-D bone scaffold printer to help patients with broken bones in emergency situations.

December – After more than eight years of conflict, spilt blood and squandered treasure to no clear end, America quietly withdrew its last remaining troops (though their presence will be subsumed by a huge, enduring diplomatic corps and army of rent-a-cops) from Iraq, without fanfare or too much arrogance but also without lessons learnt. Under the toxic advisement of figures like Curveball, dissidents to tell the US government what it wanted to hear and Hussein exaggerating his complement of arms to appear tough in a tough neighbourhood, and general designs for empire, the coalition splintered and American spent its borrowed capital, and now is attempting to stare down the Iranians in the same way. Given all the past manipulation that the regimes of Iran have undergone at the hands of American and British interference and that there is no conclusive evidence that the country is on a war-footing, possibly just talk and posteuring, it seems like maybe 2012 will also have some re-runs.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

orchestra baobab

We have a venerable old Affenbrot-baumchen (Monkey Bread Tree, Baobab or Adansonia) growing against the window pane for support. Without a prop, the young clones grow sort of crooked and ratty, like another one of my ugly plants, also an old Baobab, gnarled and twisted like a genie forced back into the bottle, growing slowly inside a honey jar.
Having found it abandoned in a vacated office, I am not sure how old the less-manicured plant is--the bits of leaves, however, that fall off of that one when they become too unbalanced have produced some mighty sprouts that have become plants in their own right. The tree in the window, we noticed, is beginning to blossom, an occurrence that's never happened with this one before and does not, apparently, happen until the plant is at least eight to ten years old. In India and Madagascar, there are groves of the trees that are over five-thousand years old. Next comes bread-fruit (Gongalis) but I am not sure just when that crop comes.
There are a lot of traditional uses for the plant's seeds and produce, but the fruit apparently has an acquired taste and even local lore has it that the gods were so revolted by the taste that they cursed the tree to grow topsy-turvy, crooked and ratty.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

six geese a-laying

Der Speigel (auf Deutsch) is reporting how the island nation of Samoa is realigning its time-zones, straddling the international date-line, to no longer be the land where the sun sets last, but to be among those where it rises first, in order to strengthen economic ties with relatively nearby China, Australia and New Zealand. The meridians of the high Pacific are a bit of a jig-saw anyway, cutting this way or that to keep island groups synchronized and not bulldozed again by European geographical standards. The Samoan government is executing a divisive transition, not slowly winding the clocks back or introducing the operating hours by phases, but rather they are just striking a day from the calendar: for no one on the islands--businesses, birthday boys and girls, St Felix, sixth day of Christmas—will on 30 December 2011 occur. Thursday will slide into Saturday, the last day of the year. No one is wrestling the down sun but I am sure there are those in Samoa who are not sure about the idea of leaving off a day, the archivists, the calendar makers, those wont to worship and keep the sabbath on a certain day of the week, and the New Year’s revelers who are, I guess, now planning for different kinds of celebrations.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

oh tidings of comfort and joy

Seasons greetings to all, with health and happiness for the coming year, and many thanks for visiting. I was thinking the other day that although we have a lot of Christmas decorations, we don’t have a crèche. A few days ago, Neatorama featured a clever collection of Nativity scenes comprised of action figures.
I thought I could pull off a similar diorama, with Bib Fortuna and the Bounty Hunters 4-LOM and Zuckuss representing the Three Wise Men, the Rancor Keeper and a Sand Person the shepherds of ewoks and droids. We have more traditional figures and could have managed something more festive, of course--with Marian statues, saints, angels and über-dimensional sheeps and goats, but nothing that might make a whole joyful gathering with matching proportions. Have a holly, jolly Christmas. Frohe Weihnachten!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

cool yule or psychopomp

Just in time for the passing of Yule, the Winter Solstice, a package arrived from my parents in the States with a lot of Christmas goodies we’ll be unwrapping in a few days besides, with this resplendent and very Bavarian woven table runner (Tischläufer), which I think is a modern depiction of the mythological motif of the Wilde Jagd (the Wild Hunt), associated with Yuletide and the superimposition of Christmas traditions.
Like Ghost Riders in the Sky, the Wild Hunt is a tapestry of ethereal huntsmen under the leadership of Nordic gods or sometimes Krampus (Santa's bizarro-world opposite who punishes the naughty) and was foreboding of different things: a psychopomp is such a parade of spirit guides, like astral reindeer.
In any case, the passing of Yule, where ever we might try to find meaning, symbolism or reconstruct traditions, means that the nights retreat a little bit and the sunset and the dawn creeps in earlier and earlier each day.  We'll certainly have a place to display this gift on the sideboard.

taxiway

The American airline industry and various echelons of the US government are complaining bitterly about new European Union emission levies to go into effect with the coming of the new year. The EU efforts to single-handedly maintain the spirit of the Kyoto Accords to reduce negative environmental impact by imposing a carbon-tax on all flights taking off and landing in European airports are being decried as Europe slouching towards more of an isolationist policy, not integrating (I suppose) with the flagrant push for commerce and tourism at any and all costs with the rest of the world. Such vocal complaints and taunts are recent developments, however, and may be reflecting the pressure and shame that is being directed towards the EU for the way it is handling its economic affairs, as these arrangements have been known (and opposed) for over three years. The EU, upheld by Curia in Luxembourg and other legal observers, won’t fold on this project, despite the resistance of others. The US would find itself exempt from any surcharge, which surely would be passed along to the flying public in any case, if they had their own scheme and regulations in place to reckon and curtail pollution.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

the trend is towards the bourgeois-smug

With the fomenting of the delicate succession in North Korea and rampant speculation about the elections in Russia, politicians and reporters perhaps ought to be a bit more gracious in their commentary--not censored and restrained but on the contrary, using the voice and platform they have to speak for the oppressed and as well as admonishing their audience about their own tenuous state of affairs, how their ability to voice those opinions is under constant threat and due vigilance is never out of bounds.

Guarding against both writ-large and petty, creeping tyrannies is not something that's lulled or beaten out of the people with the tattoo of economic indicators and security, and given the state of politics in the Western powers, one might do well to acknowledge the diminishing margin for criticism, leisurely or otherwise. The "will" of the American people in next year's US presidential election, filtered through campaigns, slant, libel and lobbyists, potentially poses a bigger threat to the world than the not insignificant legacy of dictators. Reckoning among the influence peddlers in the banks, the military-industrial complex and the patent-holders, the average person is less at liberty, and some have gone so far to decry the United States for its leadership role towards martial law. The legal fictions of the theatre of war and trademark broadened beyond integrity are hardly the hallmarks of a free society that treasures those freedoms. It is insidious, thrown off-balance between macro-economic fears and bread-and-circuses satisfaction in miniature, to have one's liberties eroded and disappeared by regimes less transparent, despite secrets and isolation, than any dictatorship. In that hard slog to shore up the euro, Germany has won levels of confidence hardly before seen as a Wirtschaftswunder with noblesse oblige but has also forgotten a few things along the way. Clutching irony may be hard to escape from any critique, from press to press or from government to government, but German consumer satisfaction is (forgettably) to some degree a more expert and cunning application of the dirty-tricks and short-cuts that failed America and Americans, among others. Unemployment and other gauges of social complacency are low in part over wage-stagnation, glossy inflation (electronics get cheaper but staples, higher education and health care inches upward) and glossier quantitative-easing and dabbling in the dart arts of market alchemy and easy-credit. Such placations are very effective distractions and blind us to irony as much as first finding oppression and tyranny in others.

Monday, 19 December 2011

o du fröhliche or shutter-speed

I suppose there is no bigger challenge for amateur photography than a lively Christmas Market (Weihnachts-markt, Christ-kindlmarkt) in its native setting, the festive glow of the booths under an icy sky and many attractions quite kinetic, like the giant Pyramid of the Leipzig, sort of a wooden carousel with Christmas figures that's propelled by the heat of flames. Leipzig's fair is among the eldest traditions in Germany, along with nearby Dresden and Bautzen, and decorated with the holiday trappings and influence of the Ore Mountains' (Das Erzgebirge) arts and crafts.

Beneath the spinning installation, a booth serves a insulating and potent cup of fortified punch called Feuerzangenbowle, a variation on Glüwein--a conditum paradoxum, a "spiced-surprise" in Latin. The sheltered arcades that crisscross the old city were also decked out dazzlingly, like this tall and illuminated tree around the corner from Auerbachs Keller, the historic restaurant, older than the Christmas market itself, that was made famous by Marlowe's and Goethe's Faust. Christmas trees, I understand, became the more dominant symbols of the season but still share a place alongside their highland and up-land forebears, the Pyramide, and creates a composition that really sets the mood--memorable, despite the challenges of sharing that scene and atmosphere in pictures.

navidad or chili incarnate

Did you know that chili was a reconstitutable ration for the pioneers of the old West? The dry ingredients were pounded together in bricks and taken on the trail, so one just had to boil water later on. I called this vegetarian Christmas chili because one could add a Christmas chocolate to the cauldron. I was afraid that chocolate in chili might either result in a treacly sweet taste or have no taste at all, like Stone Soup, but one could smell it cooking and the dish came out pretty good and it was almost as easy to make as just adding water.
• Some olive or cooking oil
• 1 small Onion, 1 clove of Garlic minced and chopped
• 1 can of diced Tomatoes (with peppers)
• 1 can of Kidney Beans
• 1 can of Garbanzo Beans
• 2 cups (about 500mL) of Vegetable Broth
• 2 teaspoons ground Cumin, 2 teaspoons Chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt
One small chocolate Santa, about one ounce (50 grams)

Cook the chopped garlic and onions for about five minutes over high heat in a large pot, and then mix in the broth, canned goods and spices. Bring to a boil then reduced to low heat and cover. Stirring occasionally, cover and allow chili to simmer and thicken for about 90 minutes. Ten minutes prior to serving, plop in the chocolate and mix well.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

paperwork reduction act or schwarzgeld

Der Speigel (auf englisch) reports that in response to the reporting burdens coming with the enforcement of the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), starting in 2013, many European banks are barring or dropping their American clientele. Brokerage services, small business with American partners as well as accounts with assets of more than $50 000 must be identified and reported back to the US Internal Revenue Service.

Servicing such a constraint would cost significantly more, by several fold, than the revenue than the IRS expects to capture from this inspection, not to mention investment opportunities lost over this entanglement and ignoring the fact that the IRS is assigning (without commission) foreign banks the task of collecting money for them. For now, regular giro and savings accounts are not covered by this American provision but may well be in the future. Merely having investments in US assets, without any direct US shareholders, may even make a financial institution liable.  This is bound to have some serious repercussions, not least of which could be retaliation or reciprocation--payback which no one can afford on top of reduced investment in exchange for vanishing gains.  If a year and more out, some American accounts are already being abandoned, imagine how this might escalate.  Being out of compliance could result in a withholding on placed on the foreign bank’s earnings from American sources, but given that the demands of the reporting, detailed transactions, are in clear and pointed violation with German and EU privacy laws, it may be simpler and safer for some banks and businesses to be bullied into paying this transaction, maintenance fee.

the holly and the ivy or plant hacks

The poinsettia (Weihnachts-stern) will only naturally produce these brilliant, festive red leaves under very narrow conditions, when exposed to equal periods of light and darkness over successive days, which only occurs in the tropics at wintertime. Of course florists and growers know these sorts of floral hacks to achieve the same result—as do brewers and bakers and apothecaries, but I do not know if there are any other strictly decorative and devotional tricks for the plant kingdom. Wreaths of holly, Christmas trees and garlands are certainly transformations but not at their own accord, but perhaps the myth and magnetism of mistletoe is something in the same category.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

chef surprise or old-new world cuisine

I tried my developing skill—well interest or perhaps just curiosity, at a more complicated dish: black bean and sweet potato tortillas. The process, messier and a little more demanding, was a reflective one, going from skepticism at the combination, the clashing colours and textures—the orange sherbet of the grated sweet potato and the oil-gush of black beans from a can—to thinking about how all the ingredients are native to the Americas. The sweet potato, a vegetable distinct from the Asian fruit of the yam, the tomato, chile, the black beans (frijol negro), the corn (we call it maize) tortillas are all native to the Americas. The cheese, too, I suppose, but I think it could be reduced or almost eliminated since it didn’t really carry the meal, unlike in a lot of cases. I am an advocate for supporting local farming but old world choices would really be impoverished without new world discoveries.

 
Makes four servings
  • About 800 ml of whole, peeled tomatoes (28 oz can)
  • 6-8 corn tortillas
  • 2+ teaspoons of chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper to taste
  • 3+ tablespoons of cooking oil
  • 2 garlic cloves and a large onion
  • 2 small to medium sweet potatoes
  • 500 g shredded cheese (Cheddar or a spicy mix)
  • 450 g of black beans (14 oz can)

First, peel and grate the sweet potatoes coarsely for about a 500 g (two handfuls) yield, chop and dice the onion and put aside. Preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F). Start heating up a skillet on the range, on medium heat with about a tablespoon of cooking oil and toss in about half of the diced onion and the garlic. While that is cooking, with a food processor or hand mixer, puree the tomatoes, the other half of the onions with a bit of oil, salt and pepper until smooth and transfer to a bowl and set aside. To the onions and garlic on the range, stir in the grated sweet potato and black beans with the chili and oregano and let cook an additional 5-6 minutes. Take a casserole dish and spread the tomato mixture on the bottom, covering the pan but not too thick. Remove the beans and sweet potatoes from the heat and stir in a couple handfuls of cheese and allow it to gel for about a minute. Spoon the bean and sweet potato mixture on the tortillas, roll, and place in the casserole dish. Afterwards, top with the remaining tomato mixture and the rest of the cheese. Pop the casserole dish in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the cheese browns and bubbles and the excess liquid cooks away.

fennec fox

The United Nation’s climate summit that just concluded in Durban, South Africa faced some enormous challenges in trying to recapture the concrete results and spirit of cooperation of the Kyoto Protocols of two decades ago. Some progress was made, I think, during this last session but it remains to be seen if these agreed upon goals will be enough to staunch environmental irreversible change. I admire the European Union’s determination to take a leading role and maintain reduction targets, even among disheartening divisions, and China for, with some significant reservations, moves towards stewardship and sustainability that will potentially upstage everyone. It was discouraging to hear that Canada for financial reasons has decided also to break ranks, since any gains would be undone by the profligate actions of the world’s biggest polluters and developing nations. It’s especially poignant, and I didn’t notice the symbol until after all was said and done, as the UN, I think, choose to hold the summit under the good auspices of Durban with a reference to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince--the baobab tree taking up the whole planet, as the trees would do to the Little Prince’s little home world without pruning.  The Little Prince had more than one world to explore, however, singular domains and ruled by different potentates.  The allegory is a bit inverted but probably apt for the struggle and squabbling over responsibilities for what belongs to everyone.

Monday, 12 December 2011

modular text or cabinet shuffle

Nine months or so after his self-imposed exile in the States, Germany’s former Economic and Defense minister, with the affectionate moniker zu Googleberg (EN/DE) has returned but this time on the board of the European Commission as the advocate for protecting freedom of the internet, especially from oppressive regimes who would quash the voice of revolution and insurrection.

The former minister assures the commission, the executive branch of the EU governing body, that he can use the network that he built up during his time in the German government to promote measures to safeguard democratic and transparent avenues of expression--plus his own honed skills in citation and referencing. This return and announcement, and perhaps this needed post was created especially for him, comes at a strange time in the court of internet freedom, as the US Secretary of State spoke from the Hague, just days prior, demanding that no country attempt to subvert the freedoms of speech and assembly that the internet helps facilitate. This plea seemed a little facetious given that the US and perhaps in collusion with the rest of the western world is concocting its own more insidious forms of oppression. Perhaps the US alone imagines itself competent and high-minded enough to manage the censorship, what with already having blocked wi-fi coverage to areas where protesters planned to gather (the Los Angeles mass-transit platforms) or courts deeming bloggers separate from journalists or SOPA, which more famously criminalizes cover-bands but also suppresses originality that is not licensed and vetted by the industry. I admired our former minister, despite his transgressions and being made to fall on his sword, and I hope that this post is not just an echo of idealized US policy towards free-speech and internet self-regulation.

titanomachy or primus inter pares

In a dispatch from the Swiss edition of thelocal, the central government of the Helvetic Confederacy in Bern is reluctant to share (otherwise befriend America) access to its electronic criminal records database with the United States. The arrangement is not reciprocal, mutual as Switzerland isn’t taking on the whole onerous burden of America’s security apparatus but Swiss authorities are expected to surrender all the vital information of its citizens, in case a native ne’er-do-well ever decides to visit the States, and the only thing that the Swiss people are getting in return for this openness and trust for the US to safeguard its information better than the US can keep track of its own is the right to travel to the States under the Visa-Waiver program, a government web-site that supposedly announces one’s plans and intentions well ahead of time but despite the publicity, one is asked the same stock questions by countless airport personnel coming and going, prodded and frisked just the same.


I think that Switzerland ought to resist submitting to this sort of security theatre, which while mining the demographics of dozens of other countries for something speciously actionable, goes on to treat each and every that’s participating in the Visa-Waiver program (and consequently, sharing their police dossiers) as if they cannot handle their own affairs—or connect the dots and have an over-abundance of domestic problems and are eager to export them to America. The US already bullied the banks into disclosing too much, ostensibly over money-laundering and terrorism, that made a shambles out of everything, as if the US had any business dictating to the Swiss how to manage money. Even after, through controlling the flow of wire-transfers, America became this hundred-handed Hecatonchires of the world’s financial system (or law-enforcement), it was still unable to forecast the knock-on effects of its gross mismanagement of its own business. Private and personal information, of breakers and abiders, is not being entrusted to good hands, I think, and the Swiss ought to allow their waiver program to lapse. Giving up all these records is something much more permanent than the daily fluctuations of the stock markets or the designs of some paranoid security czar. At least requiring a mutual visit to the embassy to apply for a Visa could be one thing that the Swiss could reciprocate in kind.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

blue-plate special or everything’s up-to-date in kansas city

For the US presidential election less than a year out, I am guessing that the voting public and the public at-large has only been served the first loathsome appetizers of what rhetoric is in store for them in the coming campaign. Watching from a safer distance yet still not clear of the eruption of embarrassment and the rubber-necking over a profoundly expensive, corrupt and obtuse fight to secure the consent of an increasing narrow majority of the American voters--as much as can be fairly represented by gerrymandering, lobbyists and arcane institutions of indirect democracy.
Disappointment and hopes dashed from the last US election certainly make for a strong aperitif (or apparatchik) and the ultimate differences between the American political parties may only be as significant as that narrow, polarizing majority that either one holds, but the campaigning is already ugly and averting and I am sure that the next course will only be more unpalatable. Just like the farmer and the cowman, the tea-partiers and the occupiers should be friends, and both camps fighting against the establishment and would not revile one another so much if they essentially weren't fighting for the same thing. Whatever the culinary agenda, which I can't imagine would be very rife with surprises and some things are only for internal consumption, before it even begins in earnest, I bet Jesus and Mohammed (along with a whole host of others) are cringing at their summonses, much preferring words not be put into their mouths and dragged into the muck as casually as any other words of sophistry. It seems the attacks get more vicious every cycle, and I wonder when undisguised incivility reaches the point where it is no longer tolerated, stomached, when it becomes an insult to general intellect.

Friday, 9 December 2011

london bridge or two turntables and a microphone

Over British objections, Franco-German efforts to introduce an overarching treaty for all members of the European Union were scaled back (following coverage and some handy infographics from the BBC), and changed rules imposed without the ascension of any individual member, on euro-users and a collection of a few willing hosts. This deal brokered within the bounds of market and trade and below the threshold of submitting the changes before the full EU assembly but also broke by a vocal abstention is basically a mechanism of enforcement of guidelines, a honour-system that was already in place that enumerated the conditions of being a part of the union, like maintaining a healthy debt-to-domestic revenue ratio and reciprocating freedom of movement rights for fellow-member states.  Perhaps from the beginning, such peer-review ought to have been in place, although it does seem a bit of a slight to have one’s national budget, spending plans and tax schemes subject to approval by the EU before one’s own government. Ireland first was the brunt of that outrage, but essentially, in hock and with a narrow discretionary latitude already a puppet on a string to the IMF and other lenders, Ireland was already not in charge of its own monetary affairs.
And although such a shift (and it only applies to situations where economic stability is threatened and rescue funding has been distributed, not as a matter of course) does mark a retreat on national sovereignty, it does seem better (although a slippery precedent) to surrender this bit of procedure that will only underscore weaknesses and highlight where help is needed, than risk peace or protectionism on a bigger, uncontrolled scale. The UK is course right to raise objections and even divorce itself from the whole union, if such is the will of the people, but the tenor of the UK’s hue and cry sound suspect, more like a chorus of bankers and not of Britons, Welsh and Scotsmen. Were banks with the attested aims of protecting the financial sector of the City of London behind the opposition and fear-mongering? Shielding the banks’ profits and misplaced mercy for their transgressions are what created this mess to begin with, and safeguarding the financial sector should not come at the expense of further isolation for the British Isles, a Europe running at two speeds, maybe this estrangement translating to loss not only in integration but also trade and opportunities to do business with the rest of the euro block.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

patteran or tacit knowledge

Ranker--and it is amazing what boutique web-sites one can find--showcases the top 50 internet memes of 2011, via Neatorama, which is curating many of the superlatives, achievements and things better forgotten of the past year. Some of these are really funny and flooring and even though for the best ones only a glimpse and no explanation suffices to communicate everything without killing the joke, I do like the Cliff's Notes and appreciate the background with plenty of inspirations and variations on a theme. What other statement in short-hand, writ small, might you include here?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

kitchen-witch or jahresendflügelfigur

We have a pretty papier-mâché angel hanging up for Christmas time. Last year, we had it up as well and H's father asked if she was a witch. H was a little embarrassed, but H's parents lived in East Germany, and as H once explained to me, Christmas and all the seasonal trappings were tolerated during the DDR-Zeit, only the idea of angels was secularized in the form of their official catalogue designation: ein Jahresendflügelfigur, basically an end-of-the-year-figure-with-wings. Maybe angels, regaled not as a Guardian Angel (Schutzengel), and such would not be instantly recognizable.  I thought it was sweet what H's father said and having a Christmas witch is certainly something to hang with the mistletoe.

show-boat diplomacy

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced, with the support of the administration, that the US diplomatic machine will no longer suffer the bigotry, discrimination and violence of other nations in regard to gay rights and freedoms.
Stance and human-rights records on the treatment of gay people will be taken into consideration when granting asylum and as factors when figuring foreign aid, just as fundamental rights for women and minority groups have been factored into the equation. I am proud that America came forward with that position but it is a delicate matter. Clinton readily admits that the US does not have the best track-record in civil-rights in general but has made strides, like with the revocation of her husband's compromised Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell policy and though gay people are living and being born all over the world and in some places shunned for it, it is going to be difficult to manage this embassy without appearing to promote cultural imperialism or chauvinism, imposing American norms and values on others. Such fears, though never to be dismissed, are a distant, academic excuse--considering all the other direct and indirect American ambassadors and peddlers of influence. Life isn't easy for anyone and no one can indoctrinate whole nations with the tools of statecraft, nor is anyone trying to--only that countries tolerating or persecuting injustice in its most awful forms not be given equal footing with the rest of civil society. It is noteworthy that just on principle, opponents and detractors of everything the current US administration does or fakes or contemplates, is as shrill and vocal about this change in policy as those few nations that find any degree of support or acknowledgement of gay rights surpassingly objectionable. The German Foreign Minister (Clinton's counterpart) is openly-gay and travels unaccompanied by his husband when his job takes him to lands where this practice is not accepted. I don't know that his husband's absence sends a stronger message to international foils, and personal choice, respected, does not become official position and vice-versa. Not to diminish Clinton's bold work, but maybe first the US as a whole needs to become more tolerant and inclusive, to the point where they too could be represented by such an individual and that nobody knows and nobody cares whom he or she loves.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

top bonität oder ansteckungsgefahr

The bullying, nannying antics of the credit-rating agencies have threatened to downgrade (toppling the Top Bonität, rating, of some 15 euro zone members) en masse the core countries of the shared-currency, not that Greece and others are peripheral but the financial machinery has already dismissed them. I kept belabouring these rather predictable developments, in hopes, that the insanity of it all is just a bit more apparent or, if already manifest, at least not taken as custom or as inescapable. The machinations of the confidence tricksters and assessors of gullibility, however, are forcing one's hand, perhaps too hastily down one strait, which removes serious deliberation to the speculators that would gamble on the failure of the whole enterprise. Collectively, we are leaning on France and Germany for leadership but the characteristics of good and effective governance did not suddenly become important commodities only when the monetary wherewithal of Europe was thrown into question.   It is extortion and it seems as if the credit-rating agencies and the markets have already made up their minds.  There's no honour in kow-towing to the bullies and taking their remedies without question, but maybe the menace of higher interest-rates, usury for past borrowing, might change the way people owe and how they owe--after all, too much easy credit and thoughtless debt helped create this mess to begin with--and that discipline, not austerity, might not be such a welcome shift for the lenders.

Monday, 5 December 2011

vindaloo

This picture was not properly setup, but I wanted to capture the latest chef-surprise in case it turned out good and my camera has a setting specifically to capture images of food, "Saturation is higher to make food look more appetizing," which is an under-utilized feature. I tried making a broccoli curry and improvised a little and voila:

Broccoli Curry with Garbanzo Beans and Cranberries
  • One small bunch of broccoli chopped into small pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tea-spoons Hot Madras Curry Powder (or less to taste)
  • 1 can of Garbanzo Beans
  • A few handfuls of dried cranberries or raisins
  • 1 ⅔ cups of couscous
For four servings, cook the broccoli in a large sauce pan (big enough for all the ingredients) over medium heat in olive oil for approximately five minutes, tossing and then add curry powder. After mixing, combine the garbanzo beans and the cranberries. Continue stirring when adding 2 cups of water or vegetable broth and about a teaspoon of salt. Cover but stir occasionally until the mixture comes to a boil. Then pour in the couscous and stir until the dish just reaches boiling again, then cover and remove from heat. Wait five minutes for the couscous to absorb the water, then fluff with a fork and serve.

  • für 4 Personen, Etwa 500 gram Brokkoli, fein geschnittenen
  • mit 2 Teelöffel scharfes Currypulver abschmecken
  • 1 Dose Kichererbsen
  • einige Handvolle getrockneten Preiselbeeren oder Rosinen
  • 400 mL Kuskus (und 500 mL Wasser oder Gemüsebrühe dafür)
Der Brokkoli kochen in Öl in der Pfanne für etwa 5 Minuten und mit Currypulver würzen. Alles erhitzen und zum Schluss die Kichererbsen und die Preiselbeeren dazugeben. Anschließend die Wasser oder Brühe mite in bissen Salz hineingeben. Die Pfanne zudecken und einmal aufkochen lassen. Nun den Kuskus hinzugeben und vom Feuer nehmen. Das Kuskus kocht (unter dem Deckel) für etwa 5 Minuten. Wenn das Essen fertig ist, vorsichtig mit einer Gabel durchziehen, servieren und genießen.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

sopapilla oder net neutralität

Though SOPA, the bill in the US Congress that would outlaw parody, sampling and originality has nothing to do with anti-piracy measures and the opponents of the bill certainly are not endorsing common-sense copyright infringement and respect intellectual property and artistic integrity, a Swiss government commissioned study (auf Deutsch, en français, in Italiano, ed tar la rumantscha but with the story and analysis on the excellent and astonishing Boing Boing) is providing a refreshing counterpoint to the dishonest hysterics and censorship budding up elsewhere. Our friends in Switzerland discovered that casual downloading was not harming the industry and actually spurred sales for movie and concert tickets and well as media in many cases. The results of this study actually are helping to enforce the framework of laws safe-guarding individual privacy in the Confederation, including limiting internet service providers' ability to keep logs on users' activity and other questionable forms of tattling.

x-mas pageant

I am such a miser with my change (coins)--which belong in Piggy Bank and are not to be spent even if it means breaking large bills over a few cents--sometimes that it makes the coins (and their chain of custody) that I do spend and the circumstances particularly memorable. This use of specie is nearly exclusively in the form of giving, to the accordion-playing busker, the church poor box or like the euro I donated to some kid, dressed as an elf, who surprised me by rattling a can right behind me and asked if I would help starving children in Africa. I knew precisely what change I had on me, returned earlier in the day (coins never, ever go undeposited in my pockets longer than a day) by a stately little old lady at a flea-market for a medallion I got from the Film and Theatre Trade Association of Hessen (Wirtschaftsverband Filmtheater Hessen), awarded to a member for over twenty years of faithful service, as indicated on the obverse.
All of a sudden, when I gave away one coin, which I was glad to do, I was a little sad about the other one I had got. I didn't think about it at the time, but the guild medallion had probably been awarded to the stately little old lady. "Hi, I’m Gertie and I do hair and makeup." As I was imagining her life story—and she did look like a theatre-type, I was wandering through a crowded Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt) and admiring the decorations, under more unusual circumstances. The visitors were already voluntarily kettled amongst the stands of ornaments, candles and Glühwein (Wassail, mulled-wine) but this gathering was also audience to a troupe, a parade of protestors, demonstrating against fascism and capitalism, who were accompanied by hundreds of affable Polizei in riot gear that guarded their route, restricting the Christmas shoppers to one street block by block. The security (though there was no violence behind the message and rage) made the evening a strange game of chess, finding one's path again against the demonstrators. Maybe Gertie was glad for the exchange as well, and though I guess I won’t ever know the exact provenance, I'll continue to treasure that little token and trade.

archive photos

The weather, though usually more changeable in Germany, seems to have settled, to have idled in a decidedly unfestive state, more like the Winter weather one has to endure after the holidays are over with and Spring is too far off. Last year, by now there was already a blanket of snow that was a daily struggle until March. H and I have decked our place out with some Christmas ornaments but have yet to get a tree and with the wind and the rain, there is pressure to do so before it gets too late. I have noticed that this year, lots of people seem to be parking their Christbäumen on their terraces. That seemed a little sad to me at first, but I guess if one has the view to enjoy it, especially under the auspices of more seasonable precipitation, that would be OK.
We have really run out of space for a tree as well, and in the meantime trying to puzzle out the interior real-estate. Summer did end with a heralding of the change into Autumn and Winter, and after we had ceremoniously cut back the geraniums, I noticed a lone little green nub, which seemed very sad and unfair. I pried out the jumble of roots around it and transplanted it in the kitchen, where it seems it might sprout and grow for next year.

Friday, 2 December 2011

booster-shot

Distinction are being made between the sovereign debt crisis in the Euro zone countries and the real economy, the market place. And while I agree that difference does merit attention, since after all orderly, responsible commerce and healthy and gainful employment are quite separate from the untold trillions in virtual currency shifting accounts and balance-sheets. Maybe the meaningless scale of indebtedness and indenturedness does not translate to inflation, at least at human proportions. And maybe a second infusion of cheap US dollars (to service, pay the interest on close-held and strewn about obligations) won't denigrate funds world-wide, making the real economy and resources too dear. Or was this follow-up flooding by the central banks a distraction and delay, which won't be without negative consequences? A billion dollar bill must be a pretty flimsy and filmy thing, were it ever available in hard-copy, nearly transparent and feeble. I'm not sure about these strategies, but I am ever baffled by the credence put in the enthusiasm or skepticism of barons, magnates, bankers, investors and other underwriters. Managing money ought to be regarded no differently than marshalling any other resource--water, trash, electricity, fuel--and compensated accordingly, not rewarded for creating more money out money.
Too much incentive has been levied against this sleight-of-hand, and this great gossipy game of Mah-Jongg (no offense against Mah-Jongg players, which is more social, honest, challenging and philosophical) is only about creating wealth from wealth and is not producing anything of real utility. I cannot gauge the nascent inflation in America, and do hope that the spheres of facetious debt (genuine but hardly authentic obligations often coerced and cultured) and finance and business have a stream to brook before mixing, but more over I hope that this line of thinking is not just a noble-lie to keep the public disengaged and unaware, secure in their jobs and purchasing-power--speaking of the German public, of course--or dangling optimistic messages while in reality, everything is getting more and more diluted.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

the other shoe

What is going on with the United States of America and its legislative foundry? I realize that partisans like news that validates their own tastes and worries and reporting is prone to exaggeration, but the States have lately taken on these strange airs with all the busy, bossy tyranny of a domineering and wicked step-sister. Maybe it is the throes and rattle of a collapsing empire and dynasty, desperate and clawing--but undeniably and unequivocally, America seems to be assaulting those freedoms and achievements that made it relevant (if not great) with a perverted prejudice and uncertain prospects. It all sounds unreal.  At the behest of the entertainment industry, it was revealed that America was intent on denuding the internet, making it a very difficult to publish original work or sample the creations of others without establishing an onerous chain-of-custody and provenance except for those artists whom are already discovered and can afford the up-keep of membership and registry. Next, in quick succession, the US is considering broadening the definition of battlefield to cover the whole folksy Homeland, this front just added to the Global War on Terrorism a few months after it was deemed acceptable that America's Cyber-Command could launch an offensive fight and respond not in kind to virtual threats but answer them with real-world guns and bullets. These creeping powers of the military and the all-encompassing playing field would allow for detention of anyone anywhere without trial or due process for an unlimited period of time, not just American citizens in America.
The last and latest insult is the natural consequence of unrelenting attacks on the arts and sciences in the States but is now assuming its final form with the failure of the Congressional Super-Committee to trim the government budget. I suspect that no one had much faith that the Super-Committee would succeed, so some analysts saying that the failure was a good fiscal outcome as automatic reductions have been put into motion is not a very genuine endorsement. Perhaps brute enforcement will force some choices and some discipline but programs targeted on contingency of this breakdown are, besides social programs, funding for art programs and research and development. Squandered inspiration and neglected imagination are intolerable wastes, and these proposals, in triplicate, even if overstated, are dangerous and would generate little in return, regardless who champions them. What gain, anticipated and delivered, could even begin to replace what's been lost? The torment in the end, like an overbearing and favoured step-sister however, may be just as listless and a paper-tiger as the tormentor.