Tuesday, 31 January 2012

ratiometric or gmbh

Though the end of the Christmas shopping season and despoiled by colder, more seasonable weather has resulted in a slight turning away from positive prospects, the unemployment rate in Germany remains at historic lows, levels certainly unseen following re-unification. And though there is far less wage-gentrification and perhaps purer, more honest numbers to go by and to live by (since the struggles of the working poor are not just statistics, a divisor or remainder to be made up elsewhere with social support), the health of the German job-market may not be completely brash and rosy, as there are still inequalities and possibly expectations heaped on some who cannot hope to meet them. There is also something, not sinister or menacing exactly, but maybe a little suspect and at the expense of neighbours about the persistence of the success of the German markets.
I have no doubt that transparency and genuinely good stewardship are the major contributing factors, but I do wonder if there isn't some balance with an extra long, retributive or invisible fulcrum that's off-kilter because of Germany's recent good-run. All this was a round-about way of saying that there is no longer a one-to-one correspondence between employers and the unemployed (Arbeitgeber u. Arbeitslose), but it is certainly still fairly commensurable, and it, I think, was more than just a campaign sound-bite for the Chancellor to point out the earlier correlation: that the number of job-seekers matches, down to the person, the number of registered businesses, franchises, branches, store-fronts and firms, some 2.88 million, in Germany. Each business, the Chancellor appealed, taking on just one person would eliminate unemployment entirely. Of course, it probably would not pan out so well, and I wonder what a situation where all people are fully-employed, busy, engaged and obligated would mean not only for political attitudes and sympathies but for other elements of society as well.  Most Germans, I think, work in order to live and not the other way around, but--not free from want nor in heated competition, I wonder if those priorities might go missing as a community approaches that one-to-one ratio.

Monday, 30 January 2012

grecian grey

The economic stability of the European Union does not seem as prevalent in reporting currently, what with the Iranian standoff and campaign posturing in the US not willing to relinquish the centre ring. For those whose career’s purpose lies exclusively on reading such augers and repackaging austerities as something progressive and obliging, however, the plight of the Greeks is very much a topic for common-currency. Though usually reserved for the for the influence peddlers at the attendant transnational credit rating agencies (and their hangers-on) another industry, a group of German travel agents, is stirring the cauldron lately.

They wonder how vacation-package providers will handle the issue of remittance, in case Greece declares bankruptcy and leaves the euro-zone. How would contracts be negotiated with a devalued Drachma and would they be expected to accept a hair-cut as well? It is a practical concern but has raised some ire in this on-going situation. Seeing travel agencies at every major corner, coming from the States, I am a bit bemused and proud of how they are a part of the infrastructure, the inventory of the smallest villages. In America, it seems as if the neighbourhood travel agent was made redundant long before its time, just as the ability to book flights oneself (and direct sales from the airlines) was emerging. Seeing the store front touts and posters make me instantly distant and yonder thinking about our next adventures. Apparently, there are a lot of bargains to be had on the isles. I wonder if such commerce as tourism and green-grocers ought not be the main power-brokers behind the decisions of sacrifice and reform, since they seem a bit more fair-minded than the bankers.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

urbs in horto aut lapsus linguae

As the Washington Post reports, a faction of botanists, presumably the Anglo-Saxons, are persuading the discipline to relax its rules for the use of Latin. Plants will still bear their hyphenated genus- specie- variety- cultivar-names, but new discoveries will not be required to be catalogued with an erudite Latin description. Some argue that struggling with a dead language only serves to create barriers to science, and zoology with a fraction of unnamed animal species to describe abandoned Latin descriptions some years ago, but I do fear that changing the tradition will invite academic laziness.
Latin is very much alive in the legal profession and anatomy, physics, and astronomy as well as with certain advocates in the Church, and it is in specific branches of the sciences and humanities that one finds rigour and preciseness that transcends translation. Some people bemoaning Latin grammar is no reason to replace the lingua Franca with English. How would chemists feel if they were required to use to German Sauerstoff and Wasserstoff as common parlance? Latin has remained the language of science all these years, aside from not being malleable like a living language, in part because it does require some formal education that invites peer-review and can serve as a barrier, not against progress and discovery and curiosity, but against intentional forgery and accidental duplication.

studio system

The curators for many brilliant and wonderful things, the Retronauts, feature a series of parallel-universe movie posters by artist Peter Stults. He’s very creative too with casting and choice of directors: Faye Dunaway with Steve McQueen in the Terminator series, a 2001: A Space Odyssey by Fritz Lang, and Pulp Fiction starring Charleton Heston and Harry Belafonte are just some of my favourites.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

bauwerk

Slowly the flea markets are beginning to rose from Winter's hibernation and H and I hope to start up the circuit again soon in full force. There was a small antique market in a remote part of the Bundesstadt of Thüringen in a town called Suhl (abbreviated SHL on its license parts, which really does not pan out as an economy of letters). It was a nice drive through the mountains and we did find a few items, but I was just as excited to see examples of the architectural style called East German Socialist Modern (DDR Sozialistischen Moderne).
I did not realize that this was a particular and distinct school of design that is typified by some of the structures in Suhl, like this Kulturhaus across the way and the exposition center (Congress Centrum and formerly the Hall of Friendship) that held the antique show.  There is a better perspective (nur auf Deutsch) of the hall and architecture of East Germany here, as it was difficult to manage a good vantage point for taking pictures.  It is pretty remarkable how ancient and post-modern, the future of the past, can co-exist and ideology's buidlings survive on the quality of one's convictions.

plagerize, bowdlerize

It was not as if the activistas and the internet community was too busy running a premature victory-lap on putting off the votes on SOPA and PIPA not to notice, the matter was simply not being covered by the media and could not compete for anyone's attention it until it signatures were already penned, and without much debate, protest or bother twenty-two EU member states along with Mexico and Japan chose, in authoritarian style, to join America's Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a treaty which contains many of the same entertainment-industry engineered provisions and much of the same language as SOPA and PIPA. The spirit of the law, at least as it is being portrayed to signatories that needed little convincing, has merit for commerce but endangers freedoms, and at odds with existing and enforced national policies, raises the spectre of censorship. Those few who were aware of this unilateral decision did voice their concerns: there were rallies on the streets of Poland and some representatives in Poland’s national donned Anonymous, Guy Fawkes masks in protests.
That the people had no voice but will be the ones enforcing and working within the framework of the law is nearly as big of an affront as any of the bad policies it contains. The treaty will not come into effect until it is passed by the EU Parliament in June, and the parliamentarian formerly negotiating the treaty resigned his post in protest over the character of the treaty, the secretive lobby and that no regular citizens had any input. In related developments, another social-networking service has agreed, in order to continue operations internationally, to comply with redacting notices at government request. This is tragic news, especially for one of the facilitators and moderators of the revolutions of the Arab Spring to bow to oppression, but they had little choice. Perhaps, however, as bad as it is, all is not lost: approaching threats of censorship more systematically than has been done by others forced to comply, the blacked-out content will not just be elided but obviously censored and only within country, not to the world, and all redacted items and the take-down requests will be archived in a clearing-house that fights for freedom of expression. Faced with the unsavory task of unpublishing uprisings, no other service has gone so far to ensure the censors will be held to account.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

lethe

Just recently, European Union courts have ruled that individuals have the right to be forgotten (DE), to truly have their auto-biographies expunged from the internet--at least, what people have contributed themselves to social-networking sites. It would not be feasible to have one's record totally cleared, but hosts of the bigger gatherings are obliged to remove, retaining no copy, remove material at the user's request, for instance, old images from parties that might prove embarrassing or incriminating, regrettable and untoward announcements or opining or one's entire profile, although there is a definite persistence of memory given all the connections that one forms with automatic gestures, fast and deep. Lethe was one of the legendary rivers of the Underworld of Greek myth, and to drink of its waters helped the recently arrived to forget and lose some of the sting associated with no longer being among the living, and according to some traditions, the forgetting waters that ensured reincarnated souls could not recall their past lives. Ownership of one's personal and private memories is an essential part of one's selfhood, but there are times when one does need to dull and filter recollections (verbatim memory of the wonderful, banal and the debilitatingly mortifying) with some selectivity in order to function, and it would be equally torturous to know that our imperfect memories would always be bailed out by such a permanent and unwavering record.

origami or copy pasta

I have written a little bit previously about three-dimensional printing and what that might mean for manufacturing and industry in the very near future. Recent legal defensive and international offensive wrangling over copyrights and property law could make the technology, as the process advances, an even bigger game-changer, as this thoughtful tract from the Big Think posits, and does a great job of illustrating, in a few words and leaving much up to the imagination, what a wonderful Santa's Workshop the whole concept is.
How will design, form and function change once everyone has such a workshop and the only constraints are individual imagination and motivation? What will it mean for the transportation sector once items can be produced on site and in situ? One is not beaming or faxing physical objects but as materials, the substrate--the paper now folded into form--and instructions, formulas, recipes, DNA to reproduce become more precise, I suspect that civilization will undergo another industrial revolution.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

yarn-bomb or garment district

The broadcaster Nord-Deutsche Rundfunk presented an interesting and tragic documentary illustrating the consequences of Western consumption and cavalier disposable attitudes and some of the unintended consequences of best-intentions.

Donations (especially from European countries) of clothing has glutted the market, and in places like Tanzania has destroyed the emerging, native textile industry, resulting in more unemployment and poverty. African manufacturers could not compete with essentially free--though a whole trade has grown around the logistics, distribution and sale of donated clothing. Surely everyone who gives away clothes to charities is doing so in hopes of helping but the system in place (geltenden) and the shear bulk of materials has had some destructive effects. I never knew there was such an overwhelming crush of charity items bound for places outside of Germany, but my neighbor once made me think about when remarking on the shoe-donation bucket on the kerb and wondered if they really wanted all her old shoes, which incidentally were almost exclusively sandals bought at the local Africafest. The spirit of giving is a very noble thing but people ought to evaluate as well buying what is to become surplus in the near-future in the first place.

dash, pinch, grain

There is apparently a modest proposal circulating on the internet, which touches everything from credible sources to social-engineering to censorship to Orwellian thoughtcrime, and it is difficult to dissect the tone and earnestness but I think the suggestion that major search engines should either filter out or at least warn gentle-readers when they come across a website espousing fringe- or conspiracy-theories or pseudo-science has to be a provoking gadfly to raise all sorts of debate and get those debaters engaged. After all, who would be determining the criteria that would earn content an almost universal and discrediting label? The internet, beyond ensuring free-exchange of archival knowledge and new experimentation and even assertion, with or without suffering the rigours of the scientific method or peer-review, also is good at creating an environment that incubates such alternatives, perpetuating them and allowing others with similar convictions and suspicions to find one other. Whether confirming and reinforcing the "false" beliefs of another is a dangerous or irresponsible thing for adult and literate advocates and detractors alike should not be taken away from the individual, of course, and ought not be a matter for the facilitators (the search engines) to condone or condemn either. The printing industry was not expected to police the more outrageous tabloids and most were still able to raise the appropriate level of skepticism or curiosity while waiting on queue for the super-market checkout. Beliefs, mainstream or not, about the environment, diet and nutrition, vitamins, water-purification would not be the only matters subject to labels, but someone with sufficient passion to be assured that any other point-of-view is wrong and a risk to public-safety could extend uniformity to matters of politics and even religion too.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

lite cavalry or jawohl

Having gone through a few rounds of base-closures, de-basing as it is called overseas and RIF (Reduction in Force) in the States, and emerged unscathed, I am uncertain what to feel about this next cycle of transformation, a reset for appraisal of America's military after quitting Iraq and poised to leave Afghanistan. Locally (vor Ort), people are nervous over the potential negative economic impact of loosing soldiers--or making European rotations unaccompanied, tours lasting only a year and without bringing one's family.

This threatens a broad cross-section of livelihoods and probably in unexpected ways. Landlords, sometimes accused of price-gouging since the Army pays the rent, will suffer as will restaurants and clubs with the loss of patrons--not to mention both German and American civilians that support the Army that could face redundancy. All of these factors, compounded with rumour (munkelt), are of course crazy-making and potentially painful but are irrelevant in the æther where things make economic and practical strategic sense. I always had a sneaking suspicion about some of the military establishments in Europe and wondered if the whole racket wasn’t set up as part of a grace-and-favour plan or some extension of the witness protection programme. I just noticed that possibly some definitive answers, a time-table, might come on my tenth anniversary to the day of arriving in Germany. We will have to see what the Grand Poobah has to say about the changes, which might be able to staunch speculation and allow host, civilians and soldiers to execute their contingencies but probably not. Moreover, I suspect that the only reassurance that can be hoped for, expected and perhaps deserved, is that leadership has not surrounded itself with more yes-men, willing to expedite a rash and sloppy job. That sort of behaviour keeps people of a general's rank suspended in a fantasy-world, disconnected, and leaves others to deal with the consequences. Being crest-fallen economically means that America cannot maintain its standing armies in the fashion it was formerly accustomed to and there are sacrifices to be made, however, money and illusory ideas of flexibility are not the only considerations. More intangible factors exist that cannot be bought back at any price and should be reckoned in the budgeting: soldiers separated from their families, should the rotational plans come into effect, insular and sheltered Americans not being able to experience another culture, as this exchange has importantly done for decades in peace and war, and fostering partnerships and cooperation with Bundeswehr and NATO counterparts by being in the here and now. It is strange that this news is falling on my decade anniversary, but I don't look to the future with apprehension and know Germany will be my home always.

Monday, 23 January 2012

penumbra

Via the art and design blog, Colossal, Azerbaijani artist Rashad Alakbarov is showcasing some his beautiful installations that are created by light, shadow and perspective. Some of his work is being exhibited at the Phillips de Pury and Company Galleries in London. The artwork is very much worth persuing for any reason (both websites too) and seems to be a good warm-up in showing people around the world creations of contemporary Azerbaijan, in anticipation of the EuroVision song contest to be held in Baku later this year.
The EuroVision tradition itself, which discovered ABBA among others, began as a way to test the level of integration of broadcasters, in technical terms, across borders but endured as a gala challenge that has expanded with the idea of Europe. The far-flung Caucasus certainly seems to be an exotic and wild place, and those qualities and identity decidedly lend allure and are unapologetic, but exchanging host-duties allows outsiders to recognize what more there is to discover.

marco polo or year of the water-dragon

Today marks the first day of festivities for the Lunar-Solar Spring Celebration, more popularly rendered as Chinese New Year. Though there is a lot of regional variations and private, family traditions, this time for reunion and renewal is an affair spanning several days to nearly a full two weeks, with different auspices and ritual attached to each day of the festival. There seem to be a lot of birthdays observed in this period, too—the second day, according to some traditions, is the birthday of all dogs, for instance, and the ninth day is the birthday of the Jade Emperor of Heaven. I can't say for certain there are Western analogues and I would like a better cultural understanding the significance and symbolism. Understanding is not only in what's parallel at first glance and sometimes seeking the familiar carries with it the risk for over-simplification. The Chinese calendar, whose years are reckoned from the reign of the legendary Yellow Emperor, cycle through more than just a mythological menagerie and the ruling animal is also paired an element, making for a sixty-year series. Asian astrology is more akin to Western Numerology and the animal year of one's birth only determines one’s outward projection, while inner perceptions are flavoured by months, days--true animals, and even by hours, secret animals. On the most basic level, water dragon is "hidden dragon" and most have an optimistic outlook for the coming months. Another event coinciding with Chinese New Year is Croatia’s plebiscite for European Union membership. The Croatian island of Korčula, a thalassocracy in its own right, along with the Most Serene Republics of Venice and Genoa, claims Marco Polo among their native sons--sort of like the competing Belgian, German and French claims for Charlemagne. It was through the travels and writing of Marco Polo that Europeans were first exposed to the lands of the Orient, and his reconnaissance and engagement helped inspire the golden age of exploration. Although I guess no one knows when or where Polo was born but I do wonder what the secret animals of his hours said of his character and ambition and what the timing of this decision has in store for Croatia.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

chickenhawks or mad libs

Make up your own jokes and statements or insert the name of your website into these meme templates.




Friday, 20 January 2012

talons or red-herring/black-flag

It is indefensible to earn fortunes by giving away the property of others, like the group of individuals behind a popular file-sharing web had accomplished. The vicious attacks and entrapment on the part of Federales, pressed into service by Hollywood who in turned leaned on international law-enforcement to make the apprehensions, is going to extremes.

Despite the example made of any one company, new havens and facilitators will bud up like the heads of a Hydra and the alternatives will never be exhausted. The cosmopolitan character of this sting operation, business incorporated in Hong Kong, owned by German nationals resident in New Zealand, whose piracy knew no bounds and face extradition to the US, hinges on the brief rental of server space in the US state of Virginia, which was just enough to breach convention and to invite the wrath of America. The United States has needed to back-peddle on some rash and heavy-handed moves in the past without sufficient cause, and while I do doubt that there is anything exculpable in the company’s flirtation with US jurisdiction, agility may have cost accuracy and certainly due-process. Lawfulness ought to be upheld that respect the rights of the individual, however, the mechanisms and balances that keep the processes of justice in check should not be trounced and abandoned for the sake of unseemly expediency. The blowback by pseudo-anonymous individuals too was to be expected but maybe also nothing to be celebrated neither--since it is only revealing capabilities and provoke a bigger crack-down and considering the pattern of strategies and outright smugness of aggravation (including involuntarily conscription of computers to launch attacks), I would not be surprised, if this faceless organization wasn’t another honey-trap, a false-flag, of the powers behind all these offensives in the first place, stirring up more concern and justification to continue their excessive campaigns.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

herab heraus or power of the purse

While still caught in either mid-yawn or mid-reel from the repercussions of the downgrade (Herabstufung-- Herabstufung is an upgrade or a promotion) of nine states of the European Union by one member of the creditworthiness brat-pack, the agency then proceeded to cast a pall of doubt on the EU’s financial crisis-management plan, the European Financial Stability Facility (gekürtz als EFSF oder bail-out pie), making the mechanisms of recovery potentially more costly, paying a dearer premium on the assurance of their efforts.

 I suppose it is logical that plans and pacts would also be targeted for assessment, but given that the EU was not simply downgraded en mass but rather parsed and excised instead of indirectly attacking their credibility through their good neighbor programme and that I cannot recall the agencies being very vocal (for or against) during the early phases of the US economic recession with trillions from treasury coffers dispersed to salvage over-exposed financial institutions, the gaming of the EFSF seems to me more like the bookmakers’ culture of Briton, wagering on an outcome and any interest-grabbing probability with the intent of skimming a little off the top. Germany and other EU leaders have dismissed the notion, at least not publically addressing or entertaining the idea, that the activity of the rating agencies is vindictive or something of a conspiracy--though there is more money to be made raising the stakes. Banks, in collusion with the rating agencies, are bringing down Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal whose baited lend-lease ventures shoved these countries over the ledge by obscuring their real levels of indebtedness and still foisting more easy credit on them, past the EU statutory limits. It is simply false to attribute the whole crisis to bad governance, greed, or laziness without factoring in the temptation and terrorism visited by this conspiracy. Once the crisis was forced, the same predatory gang called in their debts and are now profiting off the chaos and desperation as well.  Hopefully, national responses to this sort of gamble are measured and in proportion.

air america

Apparently, the US has found a way to bypass the new EU airport emissions tax being levied on all incoming and departing flights into Europe. One exemption is that the originating location imposes a reciprocal environmental regime to offset some of the pollution from air travel, but instead, the government has contracted an airline, called Patriot Express, for all official military travel in Europe, no longer relying on commercial airliners to transport soldiers.  This service will fly one route only, between Baltimore-Washington International and not to Frankfurt (the traditional hub) but rather to Ramstein Airbase, which is of course does not fall under EU environmental regulation. This slapdash and ostensibly retaliatory work-around is supposed to commence as soon as February.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

byzantine

Yesterday marked the beginning of the internet's hour of desperate need, and I hope that the exposure and message sent reaches its intended audience. The vote, and perhaps subsequent hearings and challenges, however, is just a formal codification of the shady dealings that are happening in regimes the world over to silence the voice of dissent. The same champions of this current legislation shut-down Wikileaks as revelations were unfolding furiously and with the same attitude (but not with the same gravity, yet) as the dictators that tried to stop the uprisings of the Arab Spring. Though it is not the only insidious facet of the bills revealed, one major complaint of websites is the expected burden of policing every link, every tangent of what they post and of what they host, with criminal consequences for non-compliance. Most websites, fearful of litigation, will just give up or become expatriates, though there is probably not much of a margin for escaping.  
There is additionally the potential for oligopoly on the internet by a few media sources and, by extension, the chance to regulate the flow of misinformation.  The internet is just a series of tubes, but it is also a medium that is free and open and patched together by architects that do not suffer being bound by red-tape.  It seems to me that for whatever reason, possibly thrashing out against loss of power or prestige, the US government or its minders have taken to a new strategy when it comes to getting their way: a convoluted, byzantine legal support structure that places a Sisyphean labour on the public at large, like this obligation to make sure all ones commentary is copacetic or the reporting requirements of the US Internal Revenue Service imposed on foreign banks that would make them shun American clients (and investments) over the paperwork and administrative costs involved.  Just as if the government were serious about generating tax revenue, they would make businesses pay their fair share, SOPA and PIPA will not be effective in curbing piracy and copyright violations by "foreign rogue sites."  Maybe the Super Powers are expecting the rabble to do their patrolling, under threat of torture, or maybe these policies, which no one even bothers reading in full, are hopelessly complex by design, wearying one into submission. 

degrees of separation

I bet people were missing Wikipedia and the thousands of other sites that went dark in protest, in order to avoid going black permanently if the US passes laws to unmake the internet and cede its potential to handful of media outlets and copyright holders. Since when did a trade mark become a royal signet seal, a talisman that less about authorship (or royalties) and more akin to a deed or title, that's passed around like so many underwater mortgages, either held in jealous trust or readapted and repackaged with diminishing creativity? Nothing quite matches Wikipedia, not just as a reference source because it happens to be within easy reach, but also as a copilot, a navigator--whose future comes into question because of passing acquaintance with proprietary materials, no matter how far removed. A lot of time spent on the computer can be an aimless pursuit, but there are some, saving moments in between the predictable and necessary gears and cogs of unfiltered, immediate reporting and illimitless comparison.
That some websites are taking a stance on a politically pregnant issue, does raise questions of maintaining neutrality and insulating influence, but when pressed into free-determination over expurgation, there is the matter of self-defense, survival and keeping the entire substrate of the internet fertile and useful. Courts in the UK recently ruled that links do not constitute libel, and I wonder how citation, just as modern arts are sometimes dismissed as footnotes to the Classics, can mean guilt by association. Hobby and opinion should not be empowered at the expense of another's entitlement and no one is proposing otherwise, and one's voice and access should not be sacrificed to ownership, and unfortuneately is what some propose.  I personally felt at a lost and a little ungrounded without a dose of science and the humanities, enough to excite the curiosity and endure like an after-image beyond the competition for attention. Hopefully the message is resounding and we take the time to appreciate those tools and movements that are an integral part of learning and teaching.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

kauderwelsch

Since 1994 linguists from the Association for the German Language along with journalists and authors have gathered to nominate an Unwort (Un-word) of the Year, picking a neologism that's made its way into common-parlance but butchers the language. The nature and construction of the German language, compounding modifier and substantive in long and novel chains not just for the nonce but also for public-consumption, celebrates invention as well, but Unwörte general fill a need that’s not there, sort of like the English equivalent of "irregardless" or "misunderestimate" or "refudiate," and many past candidates do originate with American buzzwords.
The jury announced that the winner for 2011 was "Döner-Morde," which is a little dark but importantly draws attention to the type of soft, dismissive and maybe apathetic racism and prejudice that has disturbingly become much too prevalent and tolerated. It is shorthand that marks the spree of coordinated extremists murders that targeted minorities all over Germany that went nearly unnoticed for a decade. The term is meant to be demeaning and reflects the ignorance of authorities and politicians who might be as prone to reduce someone to a stereotype based on assumption. People with Turkish ancestry living in Germany are often associated with running Döner Imbißen (stands, lunch-counters) and such labeling may have prevented police from seeing the scope of the murder series and terrible ideas that have taken root. Grammarians are not usually social activists and perhaps it would have been more in keeping with the light mood of the contest to use some fashionable term from finance or Merkozy or the whole trend, out of some weird hurricane-envy, of naming all the storm fronts (Orkan) that pass through, but they are right in that the timbre of communication does reflect the times.

Monday, 16 January 2012

barnard’s star or space oddity

The BBC has an item on a newly expanded public science project, called Planet Hunters, which invites volunteers to scour time-lapse images of some 150,000 stellar groups captured during the Kepler mapping mission. It is incredible and inspiring to think in the span of less than a decade, astronomy has gone virtually from uncertainty whether any planet was outside of our own Solar System to over seven-hundred confirmed extra-solar planets. Scientists posit that all stars host a planetary system of some kind, so there's a lot to be discovered yet. Computers have identified many potential candidates but computers are very good at spotting patterns in the universes that they create, and I am sure human recruits with wonder and imagination will be able to point out many more.  The Zodiac and its underlying mythology is a very human invention, a means to cope with mysteries and the the unknown, but the calendars and charts that were shook out of that approach have not been surplanted or bested. Being a part of such a project, I think, would be a much more constructive use of my well-honed skills for match games and mah jongg and I am very excited to contribute.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

blackout warden

Although the White House and the US congressional contingency sponsoring SOPA has flinched, abandoning language that provides for a government firewall that blocks out whole swathes of the internet, nodding to some expert testimony and perhaps in hope of appeasing protestors who demonstrated how DNS blacklisting could invite more security problems and damage the architecture of the internet, the remaining provisions of SOPA are still devious and misguided and give Hollywood too many choke-points (any link), to stifle creativity and reporting. On Wednesday (18. January), many diverse websites are going dark in protest to this bill’s impending passage, to illustrate how broke down the internet could become if America enacts this law. People world-wide ought to join in, because the internet knows no borders, and no one suffered the privations or propaganda that tried to quell past and more recent uprisings. America fortunately does not control the internet, though maybe pressure is mounting for the US to act as if it does, and ought to receive a strong signal that such meddling in media and in politics and in the economy is unwelcome, especially through such cowardly, backdoor channels.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

streitkräfte

Following the America's Secretary of Defense's (Verteigdingungsministers) announcement—rather, confirmation, that part of US redesign of a leaner and cost-effective military would involve reduction of the army's presence in Europe, the German press made some pointed observations, probably pin-pointing areas for closure, which has been the subject of desperate and heated speculation to a select niche of German communities. Planned reductions in the size of the Bundeswehr, following the end of universal conscription, has already delivered bad news to some towns and villages that came to rely on money that soldiers and Soldaten spent locally.
I am sure that the guess-work will continue, and the US army as a familiar of the US government certainly cannot be relied on to commit to the most logical course of action. I believe Germany will see some transformation but will continue to host its American partners. Regional threats have changed as has the purpose of America's far-flung garrisons, but I think the United States would imperil itself further by wholly quitting its European presence, hollowing out its military, for the sake of savings that surely won't materialise. Despite strains and disagreements, America's NATO partners have assisted in their belligerent adventures because of this presence. Working-exchanges between guest- and host-armies are especially strong in Germany, and there are a lot of joint-training exercises. Without this partnership and immediate closeness, what waning support and cooperation, especially after decommissioning their ability to sustain battles on multiple fronts, will go away altogether.

kurzfrist

The news of a rash of downgrades in credit-worthiness, both for the short-term and the long-haul, was generally taken with a healthy wince and a shrug by the governments of Europe.  After all, people who live in glass houses ought not throw stones: despite what prognosis rating agencies in the United States threaten, which only speak to a skittish cabal, a massive underclass of underwriters enabling a more elite class of cooler heads to continue exercising grander manipulations, that does not discount the fact that a group of seventeen and twenty-seven nations, with different cultures, languages and priorities are still willing to engage one another peacefully and fairly in order to work things out.

Meanwhile, the US (which also does not enjoy a rating par excellence) has a legislative body that has not been able to agree on a budget for a more monolithic and formerly agile union for over three years now and has been operating on temporary measures while its sovereign debt has continued to swell. The EU is keenly aware of this sort of stalemate, political and economic, and the irony of the speed of its own deliberations. Reaction to opinions--especially considering the source, those same fashion-mavens that so enthusiastically commended the sub-prime mortgage market and encouraged exposure and contagion to a whole series of booms and busts, may drive markets but not real economies.

Friday, 13 January 2012

tabloid and broadsheet

The US Heimatschutz (Department of Homeland Security) disclosed that since at least June 2010 it has been operating a Social Networking and Media Capability charged with monitoring popular websites for trends and intelligence. I would be very surprised if such surveillance was not happening all along--after all, in those infernal anti-terrorism/operational security (OPSEC) that we’ve through annually for years now, we’re battered with examples of evil-doers gleaning valuable data from the same sources, seemingly innocuous until pieced together. The admission, I am sure, is not complete and does not reveal the entire scope of the operation, but it strikes me as a little pathetic that the approach of America's security and intelligence apparatus is merely a reflection of our own gossipy idleness and that the triangulation and predictive abilities are no more sophisticated than what any of us can access and do on a regular basis.
Most of these sites are sounding boards and aggregators that drive what people may read and research further but contain little original reporting nor opinion. I guess I am a little disappointed that there is nothing as clandestine and imaginative as the agency that Robert Redford worked for at the beginning of Sidney Pollock’s adaptation of "Six Days of the Condor," where bookworms scoured all sorts of publications, including pulp-fiction, for new ideas, plots and plans. Ruminating what's there for public consumption is the modus operandi of spammers and censors and trolls, and not the work of discreet professionals. It is probably the least invasive tact taken in the name of protecting the US people (ostensibly from themselves) but still very disconcerting for the US DHS to own up to reading over one's shoulder.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

sustenance or food goes viral

From the science desk at Boing Boing, initial experiments conducted at the University of Nanking seem to indicate that eating, and the choices that go with it, not only are we consuming energy, nutrients, industrial dander or just empty calories but also bits of instruction, code with every bite. Small pieces of ribonucleic acid (RNA) survive digestion, splintered but essentially intact and identifiable--rice was the subject of the Chinese experiment, and can go on to interact with the consumer on a cellular level, influencing the way proteins are expressed.
I would guess the mainstay of eating throughout the animal kingdom is primarily derived from food’s fuel and nourishment, and is not in this residual coding but I don't know. The thrust of the research seems to present a strong warning against the introduction of genetically-modified or engineered crops into the food-chain, since digestion and nutrition and the mechanics of DNA and saying grace just got a lot more subtle and a lot more complex, but the accompanying write-up also raises other implications, like the relationship between predator and prey and how attuned, shocked or inured can we be in terms of diet choices. Do carnivores or herbivores seek out their specific quarry because their stomach have evolved to digest their meals wholly or imperfectly, by design, and benefit (or suffer) from symbiosis that goes deeper than our basic understanding of the hunt? Should such claims does prove true, it also makes me wonder about what it means to eat processed and artificial foods, whose information (as well as nutrition) is stripped away, and what truths and sense are in the latest fads like the Caveman Diet or the advice to cook and eat like what one's grandparents (or great-grandparents) ate. People cannot be forced to avoid junk and convenience foods and eat healthy, but learning about other ways that diet determines well-being can make the arguments for taking care of oneself more compelling and forces politics and the naïveté of greed (both on the parts of the fast-food industry and GMO agribusiness) out of the kitchen.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

truth in advertising

At the other end of the spectrum (in several respects) from the efforts in the US legislature to bring SOPA and PIPA in force, the EU Commissar and national consumer advocacy ministries are teaming up to combat predatory lending practices through offers of on-line credit that are usually too good to be true. In contrast to the industry lobby in the States, this mission actually aims to protect the consumer and has the teeth to close down websites, possibly engaged in shady, dishonest business, if they fail to come into compliance--not steamrolled or blacklisted but not suffered purely for the sake of commerce either. Though I think the Banking Offices of Mister Goodluck Smith-Jones of National Bank Ltd GmbH of Nairobi, who has some incredible news for you, are safe, the commission has looked at hundreds of websites and scoured thousands of offers that purport to compare competitive interest rates for moving ones savings or find the best terms for a loan and found that more than two-thirds of these sites, with an air of legitimacy since they rate real financial institutions that people have heard of, the conditions did not pan out as favourably as promised. Caveat emptor is a sound doctrine to follow and a little homework is always to one's advantage, while the sieve of government cannot and would not attempt to filter and field all such spam, this kind of initiative is a proportional way to balance out the glossy inducements that people sometimes seek out.

stamp act or omm-nomm-nomm

Despite problems reaching a broad consensus that would avoid creating market havens through the EU (and internal strife arising from coalition party factions in Germany instant on an all-or-nothing buy-in—the pro-business Freie Demokratische Partei, under the leadership of the Finance Minister, argues that no plan would work if restricted to only euro-zone traders and without the participation of opposing UK and Sweden), the European Union, after some 18 months of debate and exploration, is ready, wobbly platform or not, to institute a financial transaction tax that would levy a 0.01% - 1% surcharge on trades.
There is some strong opposition that deserves to be heard, but I do think that a lot of the resistance is peppered with misconceptions and misapplication. This idea is nothing new, dating back to the opening of the London Stock Exchange during Renaissance times, and is already practiced to some extent in the Britain, Sweden (double-taxation is never floated, interestingly, as a contrary argument), Belgium, Greece, Poland and Switzerland and in other markets (even formerly in the US, until 1966, and Japan, until 1999) and the world did not end, and the stock exchanges are in fact far from some hedonistic free-for-all, and brokerages see amazing profits on short-term holdings and the activity of day-traders.  A comprehensive agreement is projected to raise billions in tax revenue, discounting fears that the financial sector in Frankfurt or London and elsewhere would wither as investors flee towards more open markets without the transaction fees. Since consumption and income taxes in Europe are pretty high to begin with, though European citizens do realize benefits for the amount of money they pay in, taxing the financial institutions to offset the burden on the individual seems like a fair move. Only trades are levied and not home mortgages and loans to small businesses, as well as private banking, and pension funds should be exempt as well, though I do not think retirement accounts are as likely to be gambled on the stock market in Europe as in America. Some have been given cause to vehemently and callously doubt government’s ability to spend their taxes wisely. These proceeds would also shore up emergency rescue funds for banks and governments in crisis, and perhaps have the added benefit of taming speculation and automated trading, whose emotions and hair-pin triggers have created much turmoil.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

penny dreadful

Der Spiegel has an insightful, rather thrifty and sparing with words to let the satire and paradox appreciate, piece on the Prolefeed and rabble-rousing spectacle that is framing not only the Republican’s campaign for the US presidential party nominee but political deportment in general. European values have become a soft-target, a punching bag and it is not just the Republican candidates that are shrill about being less European than their competition: policy-makers and editorializers squarely blame Europe for threatening the world economy, blocking quick and unilateral action against rogue states (thereby enabling the terrorists) and debasing faith and religion with an Ersatz secularism that Europe is only too happy, apparently, to export. Any one in American politics, it seems, interested in keeping his or her job is quick to distance themselves from international partners, and a similar tenor is coming also from just across the English Channel. This revived McCarthyism is nothing new and the pith and moment of campaigning can certainly excite feelings of xenophobia and patriotism that turns in on itself. Once, however, the mudslinging and bashing is over and strained diplomacy resumes and deals are kept out of the public view, there is little hope that opinions and image can be rehabilitated (for the victims of Euro-bashing or any other scapegoat) or the ironies, deflections and the side-shows cleared away. One boon and bane (Fluch und Segen) is that constituents usually do forget this heated levying of accusations and find it novel when the whole spectacle is drug out again.

Monday, 9 January 2012

on hook

I got many nifty and fine gifts this year and one accessory really makes for a clever combination. I am ever resistant to the flashier cellular phones (sogennant Handys) mostly because affording a fancy cachet usually means that one becomes saddled with a contract.

Europe, as I understand is quite different from the States in that one in America is charged for incoming as well as ongoing texts and messages, in terms of options for cellular service. Another choice that does not exist in the States is using prepaid minutes, Guthaben, which is more expensive per unit than with a contract but has no further obligation, since one can still receive calls. Many people, of course, have all sorts of inclusive contracts in Germany, that charge a flat-rate for calls, messaging and internet-access but I have stubbornly hung on to the same SIM card, phone soul, with the same phone number for nearly a decade and stayed reluctant to change. After all, over a three-month period on average, the need to actually place a call was rare and 15 euro in credits went a long, long way. People do know, in theory, what kind of breakfast cereal to purchase without the need for consultation but one does hear a lot of disembodied chatter in the grocery store, nonetheless: just think of the plots spoilt and frictionless history could be had for want of cell phone technology. I did receive, however, a great unencumbered phone with all the nice features that are stock-standard nowadays and a really ingenious bonus that was the big selling-point: slots for two SIM cards (with the chance for multiple ring-tones and wallpaper). I kept my old chip and could reload it as needed, and a space that integrated a partner-SIM card on H’s plan, with a separate, secret number. At a press of a button, I could glom of his service in a pinch or emergency, both of which cell phones have a habit of making, especially when one forgets to replenish his Guthaben.

forex or laissez-faire is everywhere

Money, a little bit or a lot, needs rules and regulations to help guide it to the right and best exchange. After all, it is only a tool and sometimes a bit of a cushion in more turbulent times. Without intervention, I don't think that these systems of systems, self-creating and something that no one can get his or her head around, work themselves out--favourably to anyone concerned and only biased towards the chaos which is more of a natural state than illusory sophistication. The eurozone is certainly not willing to risk the autonomy of outlaw markets, and although I cannot be too sure about the purity of every motive and whether or not austerity measures are a way of respecting money as a means and not as an end, the recent downward trend of the currency (EN/DE), and it is not such a dramatic or worrisome change--in fact, it can stimulate Europe's export market by making its goods cheaper, is not being spurred on by the weak performance of any member economies. It is rather just a natural consequence of binding those members in a situation where they cannot create a differential for competition, outside the union and amongst themselves, by devaluing their own currency. Asceticism or the threat thereof is not a healthy engine for market-rivalry, but wage deflation and general job angst is driving something (so too with the spread of interests levied against weak economies versus more secure ones, and what’s being put up for collateral) that is yet to be seen if it appreciates. The inability of individual members to revise downward is causing the whole of the eurozone to slip in relation to other currencies.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

slant

US congressional factions are doing their worst to pass a bill that would not only break the internet but this piece of legislation is being shown nearly as sinister, menacing and interconnected as the elements of the USA Patriot Act combined, liberties, privacy and dignities sacrificed in the name of combating terrorism. As the Guardian reports, America's ambassador to Spain bullied the country into adopting SOPA-style internet regulations, threatening to blacklist Spain, adding them to same group of ne'er-do-wells with Russia and China without stringent copyright enforcement. It is not only about arrogance and ignorance and greed on the part of the entertainment industry. After all, for all of its visibility, music and film labels only account for a small percentage of the US economy and could simply be bought out by any of the top internet or technology firms. It is not, I think, just about box-office receipts but also about preserving credibility and "reliable sources." This tangled web of interests and protections extends far: one publishing dinosaur, an industry heavy-weight that US school kids were introduced to early on in the textbook racket, is the parent company of one of the big three credit rating agencies, who’ve attacked the reputation of Spain and many others from that other front. Free knowledge (sometimes lambasted by nervous members of the old guard) is the biggest threat to educational demagogues, who would be more than happy to restrict the voice of dissent and those who would offer a different approach to the facts. And they have the money and influence to do it. Usually, the winners are the ones who get to write history. Just like with the Patriot Act, US policy spread to become the world's burden, and SOPA too, I don’t think will stop with America's firewall.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

badeort

It was another dreary day and H and I decided to visit a nearby spa (Therme) for a few hours. We had been to this place several times before with its naturally heated outdoor pool, saunas and salt water baths, where one can float around effortlessly, and it always proves very relaxing and refreshing. I like the sci-fi adventure look and feel of the place as well: not only do the glowing, colour-changing columns of the space-age main hall look like the warp-core of the Starship Enterprise, at the front desk one is issued a fancy bracelet with a small electronic disk that opens and secures one's locker and records the time when one entered--and the duration of the stay paid for, plus exit pass provided that one has not exceeded it.
The clever system reminds me of the palm-flowers (life-clocks) from Logan’s Run (which that more recent movie In Time is reminiscent of, I think). It is too bad that the disk does not change colour as one’s time is running out. It's easy to lose track in a place like this, and that is probably not just by design.

typebox

Some clever people at Art-Equals-Work have developed an application that is able to identify any font, including size and weight, used on any webpage. That is a pretty handy tool to have at one's disposal for enhancing the look of one's own website, after being inspired by a neat and clean and legible presentation. This is a step towards the tool-box, the quiver that I've been wishing for, an optical character reader that can also match text for fonts, approximating the typeface captured in an image. The tool Fount goes into ones bookmarks bar, latent, for use on any page, like another clever app for the Apple platform, Tap-Translate, which can be a big help in quickly deciphering the lay of foreign websites.

botanical update

I am sure that sometime in the near future, one’s house plants, pets, and evn one’s own bodily organs will be afforded the opportunity to enrich the internet through social media and will be able to update their own status, without us having to speak for them. I seem to remember reading something about some odious smelling flower in a botanical garden "tweeting" its daily impressions or some zoo-captive with a running commentary of its audience--or perhaps I am just imagining that. I am sure that humans would be disinclined to friend or follow a wood under siege from a lumberjack, farm animals, etc after a while. For now, however (and I enjoy speaking for the trees too), the venerable baobab is starting to bloom.
The little flowers are quite nice, delicate and with a repeating five-point symmetry. I also wanted to share a picture of the less attractive primogenitor of all those healthy offspring. Fit to burst that little honey pot, this is the sort of baobab that the Little Prince had to look out for, lest his little planet be split in two.

Friday, 6 January 2012

imperium or neap tide

Speaking from the Pentagon, the US administration announced (DE) some vaguely but patriotically worded plans to transform America's military forces into an agency more compact and agile and with costs commiserate with desired results. Although the reduction is promised to be significant (it remains to be seen what they will be able to deliver, considering the soldiers of fortune, mercenaries and defense contractors probably have other plans) and few details were specified other than what goals are to be sustained--all of them and more with less--the speech was symbolic, not for the cuts to military support which is the only form of social welfare and support that the US has executed well and millions of soldiers and families rely on for careers, education and health care since the number of soldiers can be cut but because I doubt the budget will go down, and they will be replaced with drones and kill-bots and service contracts, but rather symbolic for America abandoning its self-appointed role as world-police.
Though the US was oblivious or otherwise in denial to its decline, this nebulous but surgical extraction from that leadership position does bring into contrast those differences between a vested and a vetted leader. For many decades, the US has not been fighting the world’s wars but rather its own battles, drawing the rest of the world into it, and the other major powers have avoided direct confrontation and fought wars by proxy: the US funding the Taliban in Afghanistan to send the Soviet Union over the tipping point, USSR vs US vs China in Vietnam and Korea, the US vs the British Empire in the Suez Gulf through currency manipulation that devalued the Pound Sterling. I wonder if there’s the potential even for a power-vacuum to be created. Recent military adventures have created more miseries all around than good and it would be a welcome change in attitude and posture if the priorities of the US erred on the side of restraint and partnership, but I think America, pensive and excitable over its faded glory, will try to maintain the same hulking footprint in the world with video games, and with the same costly profligacy and with fewer (soldiers--who put their lives at risk but are valued and cared for) whom stand to profit by it but with just as much to lose.