Friday, 30 November 2012

deadline or santa’s little helpers

Every gift is a carefully crafted choice but it is especially so when presents require the consideration and advanced-planning and hidden logistical of the postal imperium required to shuttle them along with the spirit of the season around the world. Advent (meaning coming or anticipation) is beginning just now and is reduplicated with ceremony over a thousand different venues and with ritual calendars everywhere, and it makes me wonder about sending cheer away and the atmosphere that can’t quite be distilled and dispatched.

Sending a gift is something that is instantly given form and one can and does imagine its safe passage, arrival, which is hopefully in enough time to relax under the tree and inspire some curiosity, and ultimate reception, even if one cannot be there to see all these stages in person. The packing and preparation ahead of time, depending on the length of the journey, does not take the wind out of the season’s sails, so to speak, but the earliness does abstract a bit the whole rite and intent to some degree, wrapping then swaddling a gift before setting it off on some grand and far-reaching conveyor-belt.

It would be a much better alternative to the posting presents, I think,  if one could be like Santa Claus or gently float an entire palette of Christmas high enough into the stratosphere that the earth would rotate below it and the drop-point would come into range at a day’s pace, which sounds indutibably faster than guaranteed next-day-delivery under any circumstances. Still, the means readily available are a pretty good way to extend one’s presence and have good representation.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

an der nadel or designer-drugs

Earlier on the radio there was a refreshing discussion regarding the ethics and unseen efficacy of personalized medicines, which promise not just a tailored dosage and a better prescription but rather pharmaceuticals coded by the patient’s own genetics and potentially adaptive to all one’s ills. The hopes and claims of a particularized-panacea are probably as exaggerated or as under-appreciated as generic cure-alls, and furthermore enhancing an individual’s would likely be at the expense of the health of the community with preventative measures and personal awareness of one’s natural (and acquired) defense and offense becoming obsolete.

Of course there are breakthroughs in treatment and maybe science could really come to augment chemistries and dispositions that rebel but it seems unlikely to make an industry out of the practice without trade-offs. The caveats reminded me of the strange case of Doctor Theodore Morell, tinkerer, patron of the ailments of the elite, snake-oil salesman and personal physician (Leibartz) to Adolf Hitler. After studying at a few illustrious medical universities, serving as a cruise ship doctor, and a brief stint as a medical officer during WWI, Morell settled down in Berlin, catering to high-society and fawning over vaguely drawn diseases. Initially, with his reputation established, he resisted invitations to be the private doctors for royalty, comfortable with his position and wanting to remain near the pharmaceutical concerns that he was heavily invested in. Morrell, however, did answer Hitler’s call. Most of Hitler’s intimates regarded Morell as a quack too eager to indulge Der Fuhrer’s moods and grievances but did not dare object when they saw their leader taking a regiment of dozens of pills a day, which included vitamins and other accelerators, like preparations of amphetamines, hormones and cocaine, which the doctor also tested on soldiers to increase stamina. I am sure that these extra measures became more taxing than the original, undefined ailments. While ultimately, such liberal treatment probably contributed to Hitler’s sense of paranoia and impulsiveness, exacerbating an already terrible situation, the bad doctoring may have also (inadvertently) led to paralysis in decision-making and inability to think strategically. In some cases it may be more advisable to take the suffering as the language of coping rather than silencing or out-shouting it.

velocipede or internet for robots

It’s a daily ritual to check on visitor statistics and always interesting to see “traffic” from exotic places or unusual inquiries that still managed to be filled—sometimes in creative and unexpected ways.
Sometimes, however, one is baited by spammy websites, that are just dragnet operations to get reciprocal attention. I am not quite certain how this recursive architecture, which is a pretty common thing and I suppose a large fraction of the gearbox of gauges, demographics and yields underlying what human pick, choose and settle on. These pings and soundings, I guess, are very different and I wonder if it’s a functional aspect of the system for such undercurrents to mimic the behaviours of authentic guests and hosts. What kind of evil-genius or impersonal routine marshals these gremlins and how is efficiency rated when it comes to counterfeiting interest and popularity? Usually such activity is obvious and I have learned to ignore it—not returning the visit. Over the past few weeks, however, I have received a barrage of highly specific calling-cards. First there was spike in visitors from Kazakhstan followed by various former-Soviet republics, but then the funny thing was all the websites were for their respective cycling associations and clubs. The sites themselves were all highly specific, organized and above-board and not at all spammy. It was like they were all just real proud of their websites, which were all different in terms of design, language and navigation and with genuine substance. While I don’t know what exactly redirected traffic, it was a strange coming together (flash mob) of company.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

smiley, emoji

The city of Düsseldorf, which I unfortunately know nothing about aside from a sizable Japanese community and an art and design heritage, crowded amid the megapoli of the North Rhein, will be adopting the electronic shorthand :D, big grins, as its new symbol. That’s clever how the colon reflects the umlaut and I think that this will be a way of attracting attention and spurring interest in the city. The logo won’t replace any of the city’s historic arms and flags but I’m sure will become a fast and more recognizable association. With this new happy branding, I wonder if Düsseldorf be starting a trend. Can you think of any punctuation, emoticons that might convey, right away a place’s character or at least present a challenge to think of anything else?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

coming home at all hours and in all colours

Wikipedia’s English portal features among its newest content a classic picture book (with full text and illustrated plates) on optical and afterimage phenomena, by JH Brown called Spectropia, or, surprising spectral illusions showing ghosts everywhere and of any colour. It is a very carefully crafted study of the eye and optics and the tricks that one’s senses can play. The author was concerned with the parlour cult of séances that was sweeping Victorian England, and he hoped that if young children were exposed to the scientific explanation of phantasmagorical imagery, they might later be less likely to fall for charlatans or make impulsive decisions driven by fear or superstition. The work is beautifully presented and executed and the motive behind it, sweeping away some of the cobwebs of the brain, is pretty neat too. I wonder if there ever was a trend in publishing to dispel or disabuse what might be other grand illusions of our programming and the artists who prey on them.

Monday, 26 November 2012

birds of a feather

PfRC has decided to branch out, at least for a dance or two, into social networking and try doing the Twitter. I like to follow this service for developing news stories, and it seems some people are doing neat and creative things with the profiles, announcements and happenings. I think I am generally too verbose to limit myself to 140 characters, but it might be a good extension tool nonetheless. I was impressed how one’s website is scoured right away and suggests connections with perhaps other kindred spirits.
I feel like I am getting into this one with the backing of some research and study and a more sophisticated grammar in terms of privacy and transparency and the consequences of too much exposure. Although there may just be shades of separation and a grand coalition of unholy allegiance closer just out of view, there does not seem to be the same untooled emphasis on prodding and prying and implicating ones friends and interests that’s found elsewhere. We’ll give this thing a try, so stayed tuned on both channels

capricorn or ex cathedra

The Pope recently published a biography of the early years of the historical personage of Jesus of Nazareth. Most of the focus and controversy concerning this book are on a couple of lines, where the Pope sides with the bulk of scholars and historians and says that the date and setting of the Nativity are probably wrong and the customs that have developed have lost the real dates and circumstances to history.
I am sure that the Pope says a lot of other things in his book and I think I would enjoy reading it, and it is an important distinction that the Pope is not speaking ex cathedra, pronouncing doctrine or the Church’s official stance, but is rather writing as a private academic. The sensational headlines miss those few lines and are instead making it seem that Catholics ought to disapprove of Christmas trees and crèches. The year of Jesus’ birth may have been miscalculated or strategically positioned by an determined monk and the timing of the celebration, with all the trappings, may have been a substantial appeasement to standing traditions to ease holiday-substitution, but customs have become more than that and carry their own force of belief.
I don’t think the Pope would disagree, and the basis and rationale for the character of the celebration may be more subtle and a far more abiding mystery than mere politics, diplomacy or commerce. Though the administrative loss of a proper ruling planet for Scorpios seemed to garner more discontent, this focus and controversy (substantively, I think) though visible and timely I think withers in comparison with another potentially disenchanting demotion by a previous papacy: the downgrading of Saint George. The martyr and dragon-slayer lost his pivotal spot on the calendar since his veneration is in part based on said dragon, which makes the saint’s existence a bit suspect. Considering all the places, traditions and families that claim his patronage, I can well imagine some people were upset to lose this symbol and protector. Yet, no one dropped the convention or honours or took up a saint with more reliable credentials because of this, and instead maybe the meaning and regard became stronger for diminution.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

uncanny valley or listening-post

As if the bad economy, crowds and the potential for violence were not reason enough to keep one out of the stores, a business magazine reports on a development that may well become standard for traditional retail outlets—retrofitting mannequins, which are always creepy even when not cursed or endowed with a positronic brain, with bionic eyes and ears to spy and eavesdrop on customers and conduct market research in the field. Trade spokespeople were predictably ebullient about the cyborg mannequins’ ability to collect shopper demographics and find new prospects, brick-and-mortar establishments feeling at a disadvantage to on-line sales for not having customers’ hearts (buying habits) worn on their sleeves and hope the silent sentinels can gather new insights about effective displays and the influences that ultimately wins over one purchase over another at the rack or in the dressing room.

Saturday, 24 November 2012


A few days ago, the BBC featured a sad, disenchanting but informative little article covering yet another position made redundant by modern times: the ninja.

The grand masters of the two surviving clans have decided that while students may still learn ninja skills, neither will appoint a successor and will both be the last of a long legacy of agents for espionage, sabotage and field apothecaries retained in the service of samurais and shoguns. These feudal warlords have been outmoded, too, and I think no one morns that loss, though it is a little distressing to see such bailiwicks and traditions pass on. Though I suspect I am mistaken, I’d like to think maybe that the publicized disappearance of the ninja is not their coup de grâce but rather their cover story to allow the true ninjas to recede further into the shadows, indulging everything that one has seen in the movies.

ink trap

A very talented and prolific letter-smith crafted a typeface called DK-Viareggio, an Italianate Art Deco font that perfectly captures the lettering style on this classic poster for Carnival time. I was looking for something like this for quite some time, because although there is a good range of period fonts, it’s hard to match or contrast designs for their width, weight and slope with standard issue scripts to create something approaching authentic. Most signage and graphic arts was a unique, hand-rendered production with geometry peculiar to the artist, and it’s pretty neat that someone took the time to extrapolate a whole alphabet out of this one occasion.
What other vanity writing would you like to see turned into a font? I wonder how well a computer routine alone could handle scanning and fleshing out a whole character set from a few letters on a particular billboard or book cover and what that might mean in terms of classification and finding ones font when each is pulled from an individual source.  Of course, typesetting, casting a certain flow, is another challenge and achievement entirely.

bankster or the man who sold the world

I heard the song The Complete Banker for the first time just the other day as an interstitial piece during a radio interview with no less than a former World Bank employee, turned charitable advisor and gadfly to neo-colonialists. I had initially pegged it as a much older tune, somewhat reminiscent of a David Bowie song, for its bouncy rhythm and Thatcher references. Having not had the benefit of growing up exposed to quite few classic English ballads, the occasional, surprising work does pop up from time to time. The song, however, is part of a larger legacy of more recent songwriting by a band called The Divine Comedy and is from their 2010 album. It remains quite a good hymn for our times.

Friday, 23 November 2012

power-vacuum and powderkeg

Intrepid reporter for Mental Floss Magazine, Eric Sass, has undertaken the absorbing and challenging task of documenting the upcoming centennial of the Great War, day-by-day as events unfolded a hundred years past.

Most place World War I, on the European stage and brimming worldwide, from 1914 to 1918, and while those future anniversaries will be cause for reflection, this dreadful conflict began with a chain of events that precedes and maybe predicts the horrendous destruction. As the terror, heroism and lessons that can’t always permeate human denseness sadly cycle from living to historical memory, it is vital that we try to understand the background that created the environment and war-waging that does not only hinge on mechanisms that one can imagine going one way or another. There are easy answers and trigger-moments but I think tantalizingly accessible answers obscure more founding sentiment, like the waning influence of the Ottoman Empire and the imperial scramble to gainsay bridges and islands—colonies and wedges of control. I think this author and others will be able to faithfully pull together accounts and archives to cover the impulses and drives behind the outstanding course of human events and this looks to be a project to follow.

leftovers or turkey in the straw

Did you know that the turkey got its name in English, at least, because early explorers and settlers in its native New World range mistook it for an already known African complement?
Not realising that the birds were distinct species (albeit, they do look very much alike, like mistaking a pheasant for a quail or crocodile for an alligator), they named it with standing convention for the guinea fowl—a so-called turkey since the birds came to Europe through the ports of Ottoman Turkey. Similarly, in the Turkish language, the American turkey is called Hindi, based on the idea that the exotic poultry comes from the Hindu Kush mountains, sticking to Christopher Columbus’ original mission to reach India by sailing westward but not knowing there were unexpected lands in between.  Also, in French, the bird is called Dinde—that is, a contraction of poule d'Inde.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

the abiding place or средизе́мье

Some months ago, I remembered, a contributing curator for the panoply of pasts real and imagined, the Retronaut, re-discovered and introduced a wonderful illustrated Russian edition of The Hobbit (Хоббит) from 1976. It is interesting how despite the difference in the way the characters are interpreted (I suppose all readers had their own formative images on how the figures ought to look), they are instantly recognizable and impart the same exciting scenes without having to puzzle anything out, like the lands depicted on this map of Middle Earth that don’t require a legend.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

the dude abides

After spending a fun evening at a genuine American-style bowling-alley with friends in a neighbouring village, I was inspired to fulfill some of my self-imposed continuing-education class requirements with a training presentation called Introduction to Bowling! I thought I might acquire some trade secrets that might give me an advantage next time, like which ball colour is repelled from the gutter or magnetically attracted to the pins, which shoes are the lucky ones. The material, however, was mostly dry and concerned with safety and the dangers of not respecting the pin-setter and ball-return machines. There was one pretty interesting part that gave a quick survey of the game's history.
One slide, with little in the way of explanation, posed, “You may know that Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, but did you also know the Church Reformer basically invented the modern game of bowling? Luther thought nine pins were ideal.” Wirklich? That sounded to me like one of those nice but apocryphal tales that people attribute to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, so I had to investigate further. It turns out since medieval times, cloistered monks ritually stoned totems, carving wooden clubs into pagan deities and tried to bowl them over. Eventually, this test of one's character made its way to the rest of the congregation, and peasants, who carried around a beam (which was the style at the time, I guess) called a Kegel (hence the German name for the game), started to repeat the monks' challenge with their own totems in the nave. A ball replaced rocks for safety purposes and the ritual evolved into a game. Martin Luther in fact was an avid bowler, having his own personal gaming pitch and later indoor lane, and turns out did write, among other things, the first rule book on bowling. Luther's influence probably did save the sport from obscurity, too, since it had been banned several places for promoting idleness among the working-classes.

winterval or humbug

Today is the German holiday of Buß- und Bettag (Day of Repentance and Prayer) which marks a time reserved for praying real hard and reflection and hope of deliverance. Although the day off from work was mostly given back in order to help finance the short-fall in the pension and retirement system.

I think schools in Bavaria are out on this day, despite parents having to go to work, so they have to scramble a little bit to find someone to mind the kids and not all the mindfulness of the day is not totally ignored. The pension-gap is not quite bridged; however, it is amazing what a difference a day can make in either a spirit of solidarity or with the herd-instinct. Splashy, crass and reputed cultural differences aside (which I hope are exaggerated and not underestimated), it seems appropriate that the non-holiday falls on the second-to-last Wednesday before Advent—just before all the pressure of seasonal logistics, shopping, planning and travel, come to a boil. It ought to be about charity, peace, family and trappings (decorations and music and food) and most pressures relent when it becomes otherwise, surely. Another statutory day that’s a non-holiday that is coming up soon (back to the question of herding over solidarity with the option to give something back as well) is the decisive shopping day for American retailers, Black Friday, the day of big sales after the Thanksgiving holiday—and same, otherwise: Buy Nothing Day. Marketing and promotion has managed in some places to steal away a lot that is sacred, but the same kind of commercial guilt should also not be reverse-psychology turning us all into Scrooges.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

null set

I first thought it was a gag-headline but soon realized that indeed, with various levels of earnestness and symbolism behind the dissent, all fifty states of the union have filed petitions (via an official submittinator) for peaceful and orderly withdrawal from the United States of America.

A block including Texas and many of the original secessionist states of the Confederacy has garnered more than the threshold of signatures and support to warrant (not deign, mind you, and to the horror I imagine of a silent majority of stake-holders that would rather remain part of the US) an official response from the White House. Maybe the hardliners ought to be allowed to try it on their own, most likely to their own chagrin since many of these maverick lands are the biggest recipients of federal aid and get more in return in national taxes than they pay in, not to mention infrastructure, social support and protection and quite a bit in the way of services hard and costly to recreate on a sub-national level. What’s astounding to me is that each and every state has expressed a desire to divorce itself either from select members or from the whole club. It’s as if one might as well start over—and more than a bit disheartening. Even the most notorious and incorrigible members have been spared being forcibly ejected so far—and even with more uncertain and arguably less venerable unions, I don’t believe there’s been discussion or the will to let it splinter into its constituents.

Monday, 19 November 2012

tympaneum or archivolts and dosie-dotes

The de-coupling in phases of the world’s monetary supply from the Gold Standard is often cited as the cause of all the world’s ill, and I think I tended to buy this footnote wholesale without really understanding the circumstances but projecting the same consequences. The ability to imagine a different outcome from the same precepts is a good test for anything, including one’s own humanity, and even if one cannot really see an event through to an alternative conclusion—it’s an important exercise, nonetheless. In order to finance an unpopular and lost war with more latitude and flexibility (made inflexible by the lack of a legislative declaration of war and in part by foreign lenders that had grown increasingly wary of the America’s ability to make good on its obligations) than was afforded by dollars not yet fiat, US President Nixon, in 1971, abandoned the Gold Standard as the economic unit of account (at the time, about $35 per ounce and the move was the last echoes of economic inheritance that started with the Tulip Stock Market Bubble of Old Amsterdam or Istanbul) and declared the dollar inconvertible.
That measure, though serviceable, was just a means to an end— something universally arbitrary and scarce, and I am sure had it remained in place, mankind would have long ago harvested all the asteroids and be well on its way to colonizing that diamond planet. This untethering was quickly adopted by all markets and gave central banks license to weave new economic policies. The price of gold (denominated in dollars) has increased exponentially over the past four decades, as has the global population of dollars but I don’t imagine that the relationship is mathematically commensurable in any rigourous or positive way, since all those new dollars (and euro and yen, too) are floating currencies—unpegged to the exchange of any commodity or treasure. I am sure that the long–term consequences were pushed aside by immediate liquidity back then and no one could envision a system buffered but not buffeted, supported by any independent reckoning of wealth. Markets never move lock-step and there are inherent inequalities to begin with, so one should have anticipated deleveraging and inflation, though since that fateful, fitful decision. Financiers and croupiers, however, since have been busily spinning new and complex instruments and shadowy banks to hide the true impact of rising prices and wages that don’t keep stead. This concealment has served up a political and civic situation wherein governments are caught in the web of business interests, behoving them not to make a misstep for fear of attracting everyone’s notice, and lack a clear direction or goal, since any deviation is washed over with money matters. Among divided populations, every nuanced and blatant move turns back on itself and to the economy. It is not indecision that makes some fear a People’s Republic of America or a United States of Europe—there is division and uncertainty, true, but when calls for discussion or warning cannot rise above the din of money matters, we just get unenlightened despots thrall to business.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

salutations and studio cards

The one-holiday-at-a-time approach is probably best, but it is the thought and planning that counts.

Searching for some inspirational designs for greeting cards for Christmas and New Year’s, I stumbled on the cards, posters and other ephemera in the archives of the Geffrye collections, the English Museum of the Home—a contributor to the Europeana project, which also an excellent resource for vintage material, including old films and music as well as graphics. One could easily find elements to personalize and make one’s own unique greetings that can’t be found in shops. We’ll have to get busy designing ours. Meanwhile, for all our readers in the States, PfRC would like to send out wishes for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving feast to kick off the season.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

service with a smile

The local, the English language daily or Germany, has an interesting forum on the question of customer service in the country, positing a definite retrograde motion, and highlights some crucial cultural expectations for native and foreign markets alike. I for one am hesitant to condemn any interaction or exchange as a bad experience (at least in the moment or without profuse excuses) because I feel that my grasp of the language, while capable of going beyond what is just a la carte or off the shelf, maybe is not articulate or flexible enough to be exacting with specifications.
Over the telephone, it is especially challenging from both ends and it’s an unreasonable expectation for service-personnel to anticipate one’s every desire—although I’ve also had some memorable and outstandingly patient assistance. There’s a whole spectrum between fawning and surly and there is a bit of both everywhere. A lot of different factors going into programming and policy when it comes to customer interaction and intervention, and I believe that there has been at least some acknowledgement of the competitive environment—that lack of choice and alternatives is a faltering defense, but maybe that realization is countered with another institution, that of a contractual lifespan—something usually tied to one’s residence and just as enduring. Just as moving is a hardship never to be executed without exhaustive planning, and despite whatever shortcomings and neighbourly problems that developed, the relationship with a grocer, mechanic, landlord, insurer or other provider of convenience or necessity is akin to a marriage and something or the long-haul. Shopping is generally a daily excursion and mostly intended for a stock that only lasts the day and perhaps does not invoke the same feeling of a long-term commitment but is still a bit of a chore that exacts daily maintenance that is not always reciprocal.

Friday, 16 November 2012

narrhalla u. prunksitz

I have experienced and even participated in quite a few Karnival or Faschings events over the years, dressing up and watching the parades in Würzburg and Köln. Rhenish traditions in western and northern Germany are distinct from the tenor and scope of the celebrations in Frankish Swabia and Bavaria but the party and pageantry are executed in the same spirit.

Customs in Mainz and the Rhein corridor were articulated in their present form in the nineteenth century, partially in protest to successive French and Prussian foreign rule, and the occupying governments were lampooned (the allegory was pretty transparent) with floats and monarchs of the Carnival court. The Free States did not have the same cause for gripes but have equally elaborate spectacles that invert everyday conventions—Narren are fools, jesters while Walhalla is the memorial honouring important figures of the German Sprachraum, especially in the week leading up to Lent. I don’t quite grasp, however, how this period becomes a Fifth Season. The party mood is not continuous—and I imagine would be hard to sustain, and is broken up by the solemn calendar days of Christmas. It just seems strange that the long celebration goes dormant and into hibernation, crossing the weave and warp of colder weather and other occasions, and then come back to life at the end, as Winter is dissipating. Maybe to wedge another season into the year enables that transition, relieved in restraint, once the long and dark season is showing signs of moving on.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

ancien of days

French flea markets (car-boot sales, marché aux puces) have definitely been something to see for the local provenance and assizes.

Shopping at a distance under any cir- cumstances has its own imbalanace of peculiarities as well. Browsing offers from France, however—replete with the same descriptions and caveats translated by familiarity, becomes a very sophisticated venture. There are false friends and faux cognates that take on a buffering quality, especially to foreign ears. The rather gimmicky stock-phrases are politely abolished with a single vide poche or tres chic. One technique that is encountered quite often, rendered in English, is the “lost wax” casting method for bronzes. Whenever I read it, I want to ask if this forgotten art was practiced by extra-terrestrial flea-market-goers. Could it be ancient aliens? I am sure there’s the equivalent in other languages too but it’s refreshing to go about in ignorance and peace without such touts and taglines.

mona lisas and mad-hatters or meanwhile, back at the agora

The UNESCO world body has designated today, the third Thursday in November, as International Day of Philosophy to underscore the importance of dialogue and dialectic.

It is very much a part of the human condition to address the big questions with poise and perseverance, not wilting from discussion or collaboration, and while I think there has been some as sublimation and corralling in language and form, it has never left the public forum and the everyday. By degrees, I think, philosophy is the capacity for the curious reverence of life, from the astonishing to the stultifying, and there is still a healthy amount of assaying the fundamentals, the Forms. The initial and on-going courage and inquisitiveness to explore these ideas is the source of analytic and original ideas and is not easily consigned to pure academics. Rather, what the UN is inviting us (without being dogmatic or doctrinaire) is to be mindful of those big things that we take for granted and maybe forget to think about. Dogmas, in civic and political thought, came about because no one is able to hold the whole battery of a discipline in one’s head at once, which is good for membership and affiliation but maybe obscures (neglected) alternatives to certain givens.

duck, duck goose

Search engine dominance, with or without ancillary services or clutter, is generally a matter of reflex and preference and in microseconds reliably deliver search results.

Popularity and one’s own trail of breadcrumbs can skew or unearth obscure items but interpretation and adaptive scouring cannot serve up (yet) one’s made-to-order request or fabricate it on the spot. We probably wouldn’t like that sort of high-fidelity, wrinkle-free environment, where tangents and the unexpected become less and less likely and we’re only presented with exactly what we asked for. In any case, all pretty much have the same abilities and handicaps and progress as a block. One’s personal footprints and history can facilitate with retrieving information for private use, but one individual’s interrogative profile does not strengthen the integrity and usefulness of the internet as a whole. A lot of coalescing data is gleaned which may not form a very accurate or flattering picture in the end. One emerging search engine, basic and free from a lot of the common entanglements of others, called Duck-Duck-Go out of Pennsylvania with MIT minds behind it, makes the resolute pledge not to be nosy or mob its users. When something’s in the language, force of habit can be hard to change or break, but the choice to do so may prove worthwhile.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

pseudoscience or bulls and bears

Unlike Math Bear here, being a numbers’ man in the bourses does not demand poise, genius or meditation. Solutions probably are not gained via reason or sudden intuition. King Consumer’s sentiment that underpins larger economic models is not rocket science either, and the thresholds and triggers that influence commerce cannot be rung up and down the totem pole to in a show of correspondence, neatness, predictability.

Investing is a calculated gamble but has as much to do with recklessness and risk than any de-natured economic principles or discipline. Yet the luck and hubris that is far from savant knowledge of the fundamental commodities for which money and monetary instruments is only an ethereal medium continues to be accorded with a level of respect and awe, assuredly with self-promotion and carefully crafted perception. The guesswork and gloss are even perpetuated against strong evidence to the contrary, put on horrid display over the past four years. The same dangerous configurations and unscrupulous behaviours are being vetted to continue the game, unbesmirched. All art and practice demand clarity and discipline and, regardless how particular and idiosyncratic and a framework of rules. Flexibility and responsiveness has created a drain on necessity, replaced with a codex of economic-relativism that allows one to dictate the rules as one goes along. While it is equally limiting to rely on false constructs, imagine what can still be done according to traditional arithmetic.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

infinitive and aorist

Oxford American Dictionary recently announced its word of the year for those English-speakers across the pond, honouring the decades old graphics format developed by CompuServe yet seemingly reinvented, rediscovered GIF as a very superlative verb. A curious coincidentally too, I thought, having really just discovered the format myself. The internet has created a ready forum for such looping animation, and I’m thinking not just as illustrative but also as wish-fulfillment of three-dimensional newspapers and holographic emissaries as seen on film. Meanwhile, the UK Oxford Direction and German linguistic authorities went a different route with their (Un)words, demonstrating like-mindedness: crowning as the words of the year omnishambles and shit-storm, respectively.


Industrial designer and accomplished illustrator John Vassos, whose family immigrated from Greece to Istanbul before the outbreak of World War I and eventually came to Madison Avenue as an esteemed public-relations man, had a keen sense for fully limning a caption and left a visual legacy of concepts told in pictures. One series of sketches covers the abstract topic of clinical phobia, which was not a new designer-ailment, certainly, invented for the bourgeois and nouveau riche of the Roaring Twenties, but I think Vassos portrayed such insecurities in a thoroughly modern way, not shrill and gory but ominous and oppressive, slow and quietly suspicious fears, which started out as very useful reflexes in terms of survival and self-preservation, but viewed from the wrong end of the telescope, becoming abysmal contagions—a sort of hexing thinking that no one wants to catch.
There are new niches for phobias to occupy, wearing old grooves that are not easily to extract one’s thoughts from, but I think, nothing novel in the way of irrational fear. We’ve had the same old companions for a long time, like the basic inventory of seasonal ailments that accept treatment, prevention but no cure. Neo-Luddites and paranoia with the computer screen are not really new things, but I think maybe some manias over material have come and gone—possibly with the germ of sensitivities to come.

Though glass was already a ubiquitous substance for urbanites of the late Victorian Era and was not being used in new ways, a peculiar phobia spread like a virus especial in gentlemanly circles, whose sufferers were convinced that they had suddenly become fragile, like spun glass, and were in near constant vigilance against being handled too roughly or stumbling.

It was a very strange episode and inarticulate for a cause—perhaps it was never owing to the glass or brittleness but the rise of alternatives to the medium, rubber, gum and synthetics and the fear was subsumed, for the most part, with bodily harm or explanation.

I wonder if there might be yet undescribed crises of grace and dexterity when it comes to preferred methods of input and output.
To be paralyzed with terror is always a handicap but it seems even worse and more abstract (and hard to communicate through drawing) when phobias come out of environment, preference and personal comforts. That is beginning to sound more like a dozing dream or a nightmare rather than a primal fear.

Monday, 12 November 2012

nifty thrifty or crowded house

The culture of second-hand and charity shops is a rather bizarre and complicated phenomenon that maybe highlights differences of more moment and circumstance. I fully realize that where ever they’re located, the stores are not there primarily for my benefit and are intended for practicality with the occasional work of art, antique or incredible find and not the other way around (though I’ve been a patron in both regards and hope that I haven’t taken away anything truly wanted or utilitarian from someone who it needs it more than I and instead contributed to the cause).
In the States, however, there seems to be a thrift shop in every community, regardless of size and specializing in all the cast-offs of mass-production, fads and fashion with showrooms that can span decades. In Germany at least, opportunities are fewer and more disperse, saving perhaps the odd tailor and alteration shop that takes consignments, draping some once-worn frock in the show-windows. The difference shows, I think, not that Germans are any more as a whole forward-thinking about their consumption—what’s really needed and what will go unused—and perhaps less so, knowing that there’s comprehensive recycling system in place to haul away all the excess. Aside from the social-hour of flea-markets, there’s also the institution of bulk-trash days (having its own informed sub-culture of scavengers, I’m sure), because above all, there is, I suspect, a premium on living space, which cannot be in most cases secondary to the need to warehouse.
This is the prevalent mindset, despite all the hoarders that one sees on reality television shows—interventions against people who weathered the Nachkriegszeit of deprivation and uncertainty and developed a sort of disposophobia, called pejoratively “Messys” that pathologically refuse to throw anything away. There are some fine and fun second-hand stores with a serendipitous rolling-stock to be found, but one can only give a good home to a limited amount of vases and souvenirs and knickknacks before risking the whole enterprise.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

sledge hammer or as the world turns

I was curious how those animated image files were produced, so I did a little research and took a series of photographs to try for a similar effect. The open source image editing program GIMP to make a .gif and a few tutorials made it a fairly straightforward process. This might be the opening sequence for PfRC nightly news—cueing dramatic news music, but I like balky way it came out, like that classic Peter Gabriel video. With more practice and polish, I can certainly see a lot of creative possibilities for a bit of stop motion animation.

tate & stevens or puppet master

Neatorama reprinted a classic article from Mental Floss about the founding father of spin and public relations, an Austrian-American marketing executive and nephew twice-over of Sigmund Freud by the name of Edward Bernays, who used his uncle’s techniques to influence public sentiment in his clients’ favour. Bernays was active from the 1920s but spent much of his later years in the 1970s recanting and trying to undo some of the more unwholesome beliefs he’d peddled. Planting suggestions with third party authorities, like politicians and the medical establishment, Bernays was able to bewitch the public with guiling arguments touching health, sanitation and patriotism that are still mostly intact and sacrosanct today.
Initially, Bernays was under contract of government and social organizations and helped promote better race relations with the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and helped make venereal disease a less taboo subject and got people to practice precaution and seek treatment. This same manipulation, however, stoked public fears over the Red Scare and communists witch-hunts, arguing that Machiavellian controls and enlightened despotism were necessary for managing a democracy, and successfully propagandized the creation of so-called “banana republics,” contributing to the over-throw of governments in Hawaii and throughout Central and South America to create a business environment more friendly towards US fruit exporters. What was done specifically for business interests, though, has become an unbuckable legacy and tugs on the marionette strings of the individual as a consumer and civic animal. At the behest of certain cigarette manufacturers, Bernays tied-in marketing with the underswell of women’s liberation, convincing suffrages that smoking in public were “little torches of freedom” and would only help their fight for equality. Enlisting doctors and dentists, he managed to persuade Americans that a hearty breakfast was essential (for a flagging other white meat industry, maybe giving a foothold some fastfood chains to come as well) and that tap water should be fluoridated for healthy teeth (for mining concerns that were at a loss what to do with the fluoride by-product of making aluminum and steel). General notions about whiter-than-white hygiene and overly aggressive sanitation probably proved good for the chemical and pharmaceutical companies too.

Witnessing the rise of fascism in Europe, however, Bernays realized that propaganda could be just as easily turned from promoting harmony to subvert order and later that shilling for the tobacco companies had negative consequences for a lot of people and worked to rectify (with a known patron base of over four hundred political figures and industrialists, it seems selectively) some of those wrongs. Many of these grounding beliefs refuse to be disenchanted and I wonder what clientele may not have been disclosed and by holding onto misconceptions, who else might be using the same effective manipulation tactics presently.

tie-in campaign

As far as I can tell, a unique and original phenomenon is taking place on the constellation of web comics and social commentary of toothpaste for dinner and equally clever cadet websites—that of fake banner advertisements. These are not interstitial pieces that don’t mask but sometimes accompany actual paid advertisement. I think I might try making a few of my own made-up ads, if I get inspired.
My real sponsorship, from my perspective at least, seems to tend towards the tedious. It’s not really intended for me, however, and I suppose involves not just a reading of what’s on my blog but also a good pry at my browsing habits as well. I guess further it’s a bit too much of a marketing challenge (at least in this league) to find well-matched backers. Where ever they are, I am sure most people grow weary (or immune) over the same old cash of flyers. What fake, sacastic ads would you like to see?

Saturday, 10 November 2012

(ad)mirality or përkthyes

Philology and the classifications of grammar were naturally invented long after languages developed and drifted apart and are imperfect disciplines trying to fit foreign tongues to a framework of rules whose theory and practice maybe go unnoticed to native speakers. Constantly struggling to translate and parsing my own words, I think I have gained an appreciation for mood and tense and try not to take such parts of speech for granted.
English has managed to shed the need for most conjugation and only has a limited spectrum of grammatical cases, exclusively constructed by other means than declension, while many others rely on a linguistic quadriga of the not unfamiliar nominative, accusative, genitive and dative cases to express ownership, location, motion, agency and action.

Still other highly inflected languages, like Finnish, Basque, Turkish or Hungarian, use a dozen or more cases to express subtleties and precision in a wealth of mincing ways: a changed suffix can denote reversion, privation, association, similitude, coming-into-being, frequency, number, affinity and whereabouts. It is hard to imagine what kind of dialogue it took to impart these elements in an exacting and scientific way from a native speaker to a foreigner and what sort of media were available to bridge the linguistic gap. What’s mostly rendered in English as a prepositional phrase—across the room, in the company of strangers—can be summarily expressed by changing the endings. Include verbal moods and the situation becomes more complex.
Whereas in English mood is caught up in wishes—“if and only”—in other cases can even be used to master the tone of sarcasm and surprise. That is quite amazing and that its counterparts recognized in other tongues impressive, I think.  Albanian (Shqip) and a few others admit of mirativity and alter verb endings to express admiration, shock or disdain in an otherwise non-nuanced declaration. This sense exists, of course, and one could assume that there are many routes of getting to astonishment outside of punctuation, a shrill or droll tone or context but I wonder how those distinctions were ever translated and categorized. It must have been quite a revelation to first get the difference between “ai flet shqip” (he speaks Albanian) and “ai fliske shqip” (he surprisingly speaks Albanian or apparently he speaks Albanian or yeah—he speaks Albanian). Translation quickly becomes a lost cause without the art of interpretation and the admission that correspondence does not always have direct correspondence.

Friday, 9 November 2012


Those who criticized and ridiculed the Occupy Movement as something disorganized, unfocused and undisciplined are already getting a good dose of evidence to make them want to retract that statement through their help for the displaced by Super Storm Sandy and other charitable works. The cynics, however, might learn soon not to underestimate the power of the people through their latest venture. It goes without saying, I think, that there’s no revenge or getting back at the powers that be motive behind such projects—getting even is hardly hopeful or affirming and I think such objectives pull down the whole enterprise to the same sort of thinking, characterized by greed and insecurity, that got all of us in this mess to begin with.

Next week, beginning with a gala, old-fashioned fundraising telethon, the Occupiers will launch Project Rolling Jubilee. Taking a cue from the business plans of the worst loan sharks, bounty-hunters, repo-men and usurers—the practice of selling or unloading loans and mortgages that have the potential of becoming risky or going into arrears amongst each other at a discount, the organizers plan to buy up distressed debts from the lien holders for pennies on the dollar and forgive the car loans, medical bills, student loan debt and underwater house payments. Occupy owns the loans and liability and can discharge with them however it sees fit.  An outlay of $25 translates to about $600 worth of debt loans, and cumulatively that can add up quickly and rescue a lot people from a burden that they could not hope to dig themselves out of otherwise and do things more productive with their time and resources than worry and work to enrich a system that has avalanched so far afield from fair commerce as to be alienating. This cause sounds like an unbeatable and most sustainable return on investment.

the mask of doctor kühlmanschette

We have this awesome insulator and ice-pack that one can keep in the freezer to help keep white wine cool. Initially, I never quite bought the idea that there was an ideal temperature range for different types of wine, and not just because I am impatient, but more because I thought it was a consumer ritual, which are important as well, like limes in Coronas that the company frowned on at first as ruining the taste but then incorporated it into their branding or the unnecessary eggs on box batter recipes, retained so people think that they are baking something. The name is a combination of German and French terms (Kühlmanschette) that I have trouble saying properly so I call it (generally just in my head) the Fu Manchu.


The separation of temporal and spiritual powers presents some unique challenges for any government, and many nations have codified warrants and limitations to protect the public from religious influence—or at least profess to do so. Politicians strive to approach the matter carefully, eschewing endorsement or favouritism while enshrining (or at least staying out of) personal freedom of expression.

France and Turkey have acceded to a special form of separation of Church and State, called laïcité (Laisizmus, laiklik), which is contested by some as overstepping neutrality into the realm of interference, both for formative traditions and the integration of new traditions, interpreted by some as the undermining of educational and charitable institutions or encroaching on private liberties. Only a country and people without history would not be challenged with this delicate balancing act, and the methods of France and Turkey do not aim to dismantle glory and censure alike. France especially has some notable exceptions, due to treaties and concordats, however, and still honours these unique arrangements: the president of the Republic shares, along with the Bishop of Urgell, the title of co-prince of the condominium of Andorra, the president also is charged with formally appointing the bishops of the Alsatian cities of Metz and Strasbourg (the only secular authority in the world today with such powers—albeit, the tradition has continued uninterrupted in part because all French presidents have been both male and Catholic).
The French nation also has five peculiars, “regional” churches in Lateran Rome, which the government maintains through its mission to the Vatican. The president is also created as the canon of this legation but sends a vicar to occupy the office in his stead. Aside from deep respect for its rich and mixed heritage, I don’t think that the Turkish government is party to anything like France’s entanglements but it would be interesting to research more into it. The tenets incorporated with devoutly crafted language into America’s founding documents, interesting though, saw its first diplomatic test and application in a treaty (DE/TK) between US mercantile interests and the Barbary Pirates, assuaging fears of enmity towards a Muslim nation. Tradition is not necessarily bias and these lovely distinctions, I think, are the exceptions that make the rule.