Wednesday, 29 February 2012

intercalary or lieblings

I understand the method and the modulo behind leap years, although it seems a rather inelegant solution just to tack on an extra day to poor, over-burdened February.

Devising a calendar that preserves all the human cogs--work-a-day stuff and holidays, and matches to the procession of the seasons is almost without maintenance and human-intervention is pretty impressive in itself. I never noticed before, however, that some major (depending on one’s point-of-view, of course, and I am sure others as well) anniversaries are synchronized with the uncommon year. I wonder if it is just a coincidence that the modern spectacles of the American presidential election, the Summer Olympics or the European soccer championships fall on leap years: was there some administrative impetus with this make-up day? A single day by most estimates does not compensate for all the exposure to campaigning, nor it is enough time maybe for procrastinators to complete projects. I am not sure. That the 29th of February might be a cue associated with such sport makes me think about a story that I can’t fully recall, but it featured an isolated man, who was completely mathematically illiterate, and invented his own counting system. It was not binary or base-ten in a way that anyone else could understand, but he associated items in his environment, specific and ranging in the hundreds, with the cardinal numbers he was ignorant of. Instead of “1,2,3” he used “shellfish, clam, lawnmower, potato, tin-can-buried-on-the-beach.” I guess some societies name every day of the year, with a specificity greater than just a coordinate in time. I wonder what canting history might apply to today.

Monday, 27 February 2012

meet and seat or strangers on a train

A European airline has a new pilot program for its passengers, which invites solitary fliers to pick their seatmates based on their social- and business-networking profiles for long-haul flights.

Apparently there have been certain cliques of frequent-fliers that have tried something similar in the past, and I suppose the idea behind it is to deflect an unwelcome chatty companion or colicky baby without having to be rude, or perhaps pair people with similar interests and backgrounds, but I really don't know what to make of this voluntary screening and choice. There is certainly more to learn about a stranger that is not part of his on-line presence, and maybe some back-story would make transoceanic conversation quicker to come about, but it takes down some of the better and more developed social barriers when it seems one could interact with their profile on the video screen of the seatback in front, rather than get to know, politely ignore, or help the person right next to him or her. Fate and chance can bring one books, movies and bargains, as well, but the skills that it takes to meet people make the seemingly random more meaningful. It's as if the more traditional ways of human-interface (without some digital overlay, a gel for spotlight) are becoming too novel in their straightforwardness, but I am sure that communication and the adventure of widening one's social-circle will outlast gimmicks and layered shyness.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

long winter’s nap

BBC's news magazine is drawing on a body of evidence, anecdotal, historic and scientific, which strongly suggests that convention wisdom regarding sleep may be a very modern contrivance and something unnatural and possibly something that we are not ideally suited for. Rather than sequestering oneself for a solid, uninterrupted and sacrosanct period of eight hours, which does seem like an awfully lofty and impractical demand, mankind through most of its history had distinct periods of sleeping and waking during the night, a segmented sleep.

It, I imagine, is difficult to research what was considered standard practice and common-knowledge, but sociologists have found all sorts of references in literature, liturgy and medical guides that before the inversions of the industrial revolution, which ironically gave people more to do nocturnally but also put a premium on peoples' time. Personally, I usually make do with less than this attested eight hours of sleep, and as a rule, I would find myself waking at two or three o’clock. Generally, I was frozen in place, just longing to go back to sleep. Surely this nighttime brush with panic was not a healthy impression and would probably carry over into the daytime with more serious repercussions than being simply tired. I figured it did not matter much if I had had a restless sleep, since I was surely not alone with this touch of insomnia, and it seems more of a disservice to one’s well-being to worry over sleeplessness. I am not sure what agents of the Sandman made segmented sleep unfashionable and even feared, but I should not, I guess, be content with staring in the darkness, stock-still, if I wake in the night. After all, that second sleep is always more refreshing and rewarding than the first.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

the queen’s english

The Economist has an absolutely brilliant (and embarrassing, because I wince at the realization that I have adopted many of these maligned phrases) essay and comprehensive style guide against the linguistic viruses of Americanisms, which have become entrenched in speech and writing. The ability to at least recognize, if not rage against, regional distinctions is important and more than a matter of pronunciation or diction. All language certainly admits invention and license but formal communication, ambassadorial and not limited to American audiences, has standards, and it is not a matter of style to formulate and substitute, unnecessarily, a turn-of-phrase that is less than initially transparent (though the meaning comes through with repetition) when there is already a perfectly good and clear way of saying it. No one is claiming absolute authority on word-smithing, but after one peruses the rather scathing introduction, one might think twice about enlisting what passes in the press or on television.

LA looks or the mamas and the papas

Here are two very different montages, one via Boing Boing and Buzzfeed with a collection of photographs that capture the icons and style of America during the 1990s--of course not exhaustively. What else can you think of that ought to be included in that time-capsule? The video guide to the new Windows 95 hosted by the cast of Friends is priceless, I think, as well as the grade school portrait day with the disco-laser backdrop--there's a picture of me like that. The next series of slides cover quite a different and maybe more authentic time, and from a more intimate, untractable angle is featured on Der Spiegel (which needs no translation) with a series of photographs from the archives of Life magazine of the legends of classic rock posing casually with their parents. Seeing the younger luminaries, like Grace Slick and Eric Clapton, amid 1970s refinement and with their proud folks is worth checking out as well.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

♥s fear

Though I am not sure I agree with the entire premise and ultimate (end-state) projections of the article, I do find myself passing judgment on the inarticulate feeling of unease that one takes a way from the continuing German Wirtschaftswunder. The feeling is not quite menacing but more than just smug and competent, and like Alternet writer Marshall Auerback suggests, I do wonder if the Germans, sometimes criticized for championing austerity elsewhere have not already been institutionalized at home, instigating a race-to-the-bottom (Abwärts-Wettlauf) in terms of treatment for workers.
 This is a thoughtful article and raises many valid points, like a lot of Alternet's coverage. Just like Greece, as a member of the eurozone, Germany cannot devalue its currency in order to wedge a competitive advantage but it can tweak the wages and benefits of its workforce. The series of labour reforms from the Hartz Commission (DE/EN), the working-poor currently protected by Hartz IV, I don't think are meant to squeeze the poorest of society and I think only give tacit allowance to business-models that might led to underemployment or a generational schism between older workers steady on to retirement and younger workers not shoring up a pension. One could envision such portents, however, following the lead of labour conditions in the States, with receding prospects for retirement and clinging to jobs barring many younger applicants. The manufacturing component, however, I think is elided in order to draw these analogies, though the potential for inculcating a certain culture and attitude should certainly be guarded against.

it was a teenage wedding and the old folks wished them well

The prime minister of France has officially struck the designation Mademoiselle from state documents because of chauvinistic overtones and the connotation that begged a woman's status as either available or otherwise taken. Mademoiselle is the equivalent of Fräulein (also designating an unmarried spinster and eliminated in the 1970s) or Senorita or the arguably more neutral English Miss. The archaic male equivalent of Damoiseau or Gentilhomme, signifying squire or (confirmed) bachelor, went out of style with the overthrow of the monarchy. Although it does sound classier to me than Madame or Ma'am, if the distinction rang as sexist and entirely not honourific to some, then it ought to be phased out of government and commercial usage. I do, however, wonder about the mechanism behind this decision: with institutions like L'Académie française charged with maintaining the purity of the language and keep it living by various tactics, like assigning a gender to landmarks and monuments outside of the francophone sphere or even to geographical features on alien planets and discouraging the use of invasive English terminology. I wonder what their stance was on this government initiative, supported by many advocates for gender-equality, and is a government ever held ransom by its official language.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

one potato, two potato

According to reporting by New Scientist (via the resplendent BLDG Blog), electrical engineers in the Netherlands are field testing the potential of various grasses and marshy plants for suitability as a passive electrical grid.

I wonder what might come from this sort of harvest, should the landscape and fallow-fields be conduced to generate electricity. I am not sure how exactly the translation from vital energy resounds as electricity, and I believe that this is something different from the pedigree of harbours and dams and the unexpected consequences of manicuring nature. Modern science has not really managed to harness or capture much of the potential that streams around human enterprises (and given that we are sheltered from some of the violence by those same untamed forced, it does beg the question how much we should be trying to bend our environment to our will on top of making a general mess of things)--after all, nothing is a solar power house like any given vegetation. Maybe conventional ideas about power are too restricted by the greedy threshold of efficiency, what's worthwhile to disinter, and instead of allowing the business of power and movement to develop in grooves and ruts, like other engines of society, and the tendency has kind of been to yank it forward, expecting more from less, precision or at least endurance without craftsmanship or innovation. Though the technical aspect may not yield the most efficient results, it is not as if inventors are inspired by nature's own perpetual motion machines, and care should be taken that this or similar experiments do not go the way of bio-fuels, green-washed and stunted, one should not be afraid to tinker and maybe not dig so deeply, only because that's what worked before.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

cult armoury

Browsing through the fantastic archives at Gallery 1988, who not only act as curators and collectors but also sell such brilliant prints, I came across this poster design by Tim Doyle that features the choice weaponry of mostly 1980s cult classic films. I recognized Bobo the mechanical owl from Clash of the Titians, the Information Disc from TRON, the throwing star from Krull, the Thunder Cats' sword, but there's a lot more esoteric details embedded here, like the head of Johnny Number Five from Short-Circuit or the Holy Hand-Grenade of Antioch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail or the Grail notebook of Doctor Jones (Senior) from the Indiana Jones’ saga. How many can you name? The original posting has a legend identifying all these artifacts.


Während ich die fantastische Achive von Gallery 1988, Konservatoren, Sammler und Verkäufer, durchsuchen, entdeckte ich dieses Plakat vom Tim Doyle. Es ist ein Rüstkammer des Kultklassiers von 1980s. Auf den ersten Blick zu erkennen sind Bobo der uhrwerk Eule von Kampf der Titanen, TRONs Profil-Discus, das Shuriken von Krull und das Schwert von ThunderCats. Doch es gibt auch abseitige Waffen, wie der Kopf von Nummer Funf lebt! oder die Handgranate von die Ritter der Kokosnuß oder Doktor Jones (der Ältere) Gral-Heftchen. Wieviel konnen Sie benennen? Eine Zeichenerklärung ist unter dem Link ober erhältlich.

Monday, 20 February 2012

ghoul or she blinded me with science

Though I do enjoy the added backstory and increased context with which vampire and zombie movies are portrayed, one trend that I find unsettling is the effort to demystify that undead with science. No longer is vampirism or zombification regarded as an unholy curse against the natural order of things but there is rather a cinematic discussion that's supported with all sorts of clinical trials, stating or at least suggesting, that it is a genetic aberration or a disease that bears treatment. I don't know if audiences are so opposed to the supernatural and would rather have rational explanations, but I do wonder if there's not a subtle message behind all these pharmaceutical monsters. I suppose that one cannot admit any superstition or anything inexplicable without inviting in God and the Church and everything that goes along with it. Reading about Vatican intrigues and minds that are swung just by the influence peddling of political cadres makes me wonder if there's not some conspiratorial design behind these sophisticated and scientific and Darwinian ghouls, keeping holier powers in check.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

hellau

There are a lot of old traditions and customs associated with Fasching (Carnival), like fancy-dress, grand balls, parades and a little reckless abandon to celebrate this fifth season. These past few years, however, might point to a new convention, politicians giving up politics for Lent, marked with ungraceful resignations. Germany's president (DE/EN) just gave up his office over ongoing scandalous revelations of abuse of position, power and prestige unbecoming of the post for gifts and preferential treatment. Just a year prior, Germany's defense minister also resigned in disgrace right before Fastnacht (although not on the same exact date, as the Carnival season is determined by the moveable feast of Easter) over findings he had plagiarized a large portion of his doctorial thesis. These last minute dishonours, I heard, have got the krewe making floats for the grand Faschings parade in Köln scrambling to properly lampoon their political figures, and I wonder if there isn't something in the timing: are party caucuses and election cycles synchronized to some extent with the liturgical calendar, or is this Lenten penance just a good way to save oneself from further embarrassment? Fasching is apolitical but democratic and with no shortage of potential targets for ridicule and fun.

Friday, 17 February 2012

deus ex machina or exit, stage-left

Greece is growing more and more incensed by the harsh disregard that financial-colonialists are offering, serving up quite openly while the country's social institutions and remaining commercial infrastructure collapse into receivership. For all the tea (or opium) in China, these carpet-baggers are no different than the Dutch East-India Company or the pine-apple companies and banana-republicans with their Bayonet Constitution for the Kingdom of Hawaii, with no more sophistication or subtlety than their colonial predecessors. Though there is probably profits to be realized too from the downfall (for opportunists and also ultimately for the good of the people), the only ones to suffer from the revaluation, by hook or by crook, of the present economy would be the colonial powers and their local collaborators, politicians and businesses that facilitated the credit supersaturation. The current climate is not sustainable, and it escapes me why anyone would accept and propagate the ugly characterizations cast towards the Greeks, the Spaniards, the Portuguese of greed, laziness, dishonesty and naivety other than blatant deflection and attempts to detract from the colonial powers' own simplicity and avarice. What is tantalizing and easy is also smug and untenable.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

komplott or ockham’s razor

For the past several weeks, I have been voraciously reading a Vatican thriller by academic, theologian, Cold War espionage artist, exorcist and polyglot Father Malachi Martin, and although the author, as a papal-insider, claimed to be channeling reality rather than divining fiction, it is really frightening how the language and intrigues bear an almost word-to-word correspondence between the current political mood of the present German papacy (DE/EN) and the past crises of the Slavic Pope of Windswept House. In both the novel and the newspaper, there is the same conspiratorial atmosphere, more palpable now that daily conclaves and missteps are not so well shielded from the headlines any longer, and the same swell of disunity and splintering leadership is currying discord on both sides of the looking-glass.
Perhaps there's a balance to be found between the two accounts, and one certainly better adheres to the principles of Ockham's Razor, that the laws of parsimony and simplicity rather than elaborate plots and multiple, complex factors are generally right and sufficient.  Maybe bald job-security might be enough to sew discontent with some princes of the Church, but I hope not all motives are pure politics.  In one version, globalist factions are moving to establish a novus ordo seclorum through the organs of the emergent European Union, the new-fangled internet and a defanged and secularized Church Universal, and the besieged Pope works for an eminent and orderly collapse of the Soviet Empire within the framework of the Fátima Correspondence (DE/EN). In the other version, the Church has not satisfactorily addressed dissention among the ranks and its endemic cultural failings and whose stance and creed is under attack, as in the former, by climate-change apologists who would rather see populations curbed and save critical raw materials for their own gain, as identified in another series of leaks. One Pope faces a test in a sphinx-like China who has given no indication impending change, but I think that few without the caliber of the intelligence network of the Vatican could foresee the events of 1989 and 1990 and 1991. Not a political animal and not interested in allowing the Church to be an influence on statecraft, the Pope's vicarage leave some apparently wanting and ambitious. Let us hope that life does not imitate art in every detail.

the hunting of the snark or the barrister’s dream and the banker’s fate

Perhaps the embattled EU and currency alliance needs the rare and elusive Eurocorn for a mascot, a symbolic protagonist to rally against the kingmaker creditors and the formless monsters of debt and want.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

pedigree pelecanus

There was a happy and romantic friend waiting to abush me in the shower for Valentine's Day when I got home. 

versöhnen u. abkindern

According to the Passauer Neue Presse (DE), there is a small faction in the CSU (the Christian Socialist Union) proposing to shore up the financial landscape of health- and nursing care insurance, facing an aging and dwindling population in Germany, by levying a special income tax against the childless (Kinderlose).

The group's speaker and chief advocate suggests that adults over the age of twenty-five should be made to contribute 1% of their income to support this fund, reduced to a half for the first child and to zero for every child thereafter. I am not sure what to make of this plan, which would need to overcome the hurdles of a Bundestag vote, legal scrutiny and public opinion. I don't know if it is equitable to exact a nominal, punitive sum from individuals who are not backfilling, putting someone in the wings, to continue paying into the pool of funds that make up pensions and insurance programmes, and apparently, aside from Kindergeld, there is already a fractional surcharge built into nursing-care policies for the childless--and such a plan would have to ultimately face the hurdles of the past as well. Incentive initiatives, like the Marriage Credit (Darlehen) (DE/EN) of the 1930s and 1940s and continued under the DDR for the promotion of families and a strong populace, of the past approached social engineering from the opposite direction. Newly-weds were extended lines of credits, loans, which were progressively forgiven as the couple had children. This scheme of debt jubilee--pardoning, discharging--was referred to as abkindern. I suppose that eventually no plan of action is off limits when it comes to reconciling (versöhnen) disparities between generations and the flow of support between children and parents.

Monday, 13 February 2012

it’s only a paper moon

Some months ago, I heard some discussion about a crowd-sourced, independent science-fiction feature with the premise that during the final days of World War II in Europe, remnants of the government of Nazi Germany retreat to the dark side of the Moon, and from that lunar base, study world developments and regroup to found a Fourth Reich. The Moon and exploration, cinematically, has been taking a beating lately, what with the Transformers' Movie and the cover-up depiction of the missions, general lunar skepticism, and now this.  Iron Sky, nonetheless, sounds fantastic, and I was not following at first but the movie has premiered at the Berlinale film festival, with audiences and critics indulging in the guilty pleasures of this trashy fun. Irreverent, the movie reminds me of Mel Brooke's The Producers, and shows that (maybe trampling on good taste and the realities of war) this era continues to be inexhaustible. There are several theatrical trailers out there, but I really like this one, featured on Boing Boing, because it pokes fun at itself and the ridiculousness of the idea, and I agree that an invasion of space Nazis from the Moon would be a natural consequence of electing Sarah Palin as president of the United States.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

songbird

It was very tragic and shocking news to learn of Whitney Houston's (DE/EN) passing. Her superlative lists of accolades and firsts, pioneering within the music industry, will certainly demand time and appreciation to recount and celebrate, but she has other important legacies in her charity and activism--for instance against apartheid in South Africa, which did not end so very long ago. Of course her talent resounded year in and year out but the timing was disconcerting and regrettable on a personal level, what with presentations and activities marking Black History Month, with the theme black women in history.
Her image was in the montages of fame and achievement with many others. I always found these events interesting, inspiring and necessary--but I found myself a little uncomfortable being made acutely aware that for this month, all these politicians, professionals, educators, entertains were different. Then I realized that it was all well and good that I was not seeing the colour of people's skin but that did not mean that the colour-blindness was universal nor did it ease the struggles that all people with any kind of otherness are facing. I guess no individual or group should be so arrogant as to think that they are the only audience, intended or otherwise. Perhaps that too was a part of Whitney Houston's accomplishments, not that she achieved fame despite or because of her heritage and not that her success was accepted despite or because of the same reasons--neither she nor her audience ever minced her roots and her talents were never pigeon-holed as one typified genre or another. For the one cinematic role that she is remembered for, in The Body-Guard with Kevin Costner, no mention was ever made that the characters shared an inter-racial love interest.  Her vocal abilities and personality carried through her pop mainstay, and also managed to famously decompartmentalize gospel and patriotic music in her career. We'll miss you, Whitney.

tag or bridges and islands

Taking a walk through town, I happened on this stretch of wall by the school campus that was decorated along its length with stencil graffiti. These were the usual icons and statements that one sees propagated everywhere, but what caught my eye first was the attempt to correct a reverse application (islands are the solid, outline areas of a stencil, and the straits that form letters and other details are termed bridges), which I guess is really impossible in the rush of spraying.
Then I noticed that one was not advised to keep warm by burning the rich, rather by burning them out. I guess that this wall has been a canvas for all sorts of messages, and I think experimenting with stenciling has produced, maybe accidentally, a more nuanced declaration.

Friday, 10 February 2012

erherberrechts oder

Just scant hours after reports of pan-European protests against ACTA, the German signatories to the treaty, a supranational and undemocratic imposition of the SOPA and PIPA bills that are for now consigned to Limbo, withdrew their unconditional support. More and more lawmakers are realizing that this bill is flawed, not striking a balance between ostensible protection of trademarks and patents and intellectual property and freedom of connexion, and has not been entertained in any public forum. The ascent of German and other European nations would not be formalized until the treaty is ratified by the EU Parliament, and Germany is not excluding switching back to its original position yet. This deferment and formality is parallel to the rank hypocrisy of the whole arrangement of press freedoms, privacy violations and domestic intrusions that characterize many governments of the world, who only look for a codification, a systemization for the questionable platforms they are already pushing, perhaps rallied and encouraged by certain lobbies. The marches are going to be carried out as planned, with tens of thousands committed to the protest and are expecting the same level of literacy and engagement out of their representatives on a broadening array of issues.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

man-at-arms

Der Spiegel’s excellent daily chronical (nur auf Deutsch) takes note that this year marks thirty years since the launch of Mattel's He-Man franchise (Barbie’s Barbaric Brother). Though the Masters of the Universe (EN/DE) cast of characters and multiple spin-offs only reigned for a short five years (competing with parallel universes of action figures, like GI*Joe and Star Wars that did not play into the pantheon of over-sized muscle-men--I think I never had He-Men primarily so as not to mix statures), the line has been revived as cultural shorthand and reinvention, along with Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony, Pound Puppies and others from the Saturday morning and after-school cartoon cavalcades. I think it is great how new life is being given to these different classic lines of toys and comics, independent of all the marketing and repackaging, like in the movie adaptations, which are pretty flagrant about the distinction between nostalgia and unoriginality.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

equipoise

After twenty years of effort and attempts, Russian researches have managed to bore through some four-hundred thousand years of ice to tap the surface of the immense subglacial lake Vostok (DE/EN). The body of water, rivaling the Great Lakes of North America or Lake Baikal in volume exists in liquid form, despite the below freezing conditions due to the enormous pressures exerted by a four thousand meter thick sheet of ice over it. One of some one hundred forty known reservoirs under the Antarctic ice, the lake originally existed only as a hypothesis, until its discovery as a ground scanning radar anomaly--much in the same way ancient geomancers postulated the existence of a southern continent to balance the globe. Such exploration is estimated by some to represent some of the last undiscovered geological finds on Earth, but considering how adventurers and prospectors have never penetrated beyond the surface, nor sounded much beyond the crests of waves, I think that this could usher in a whole new golden age of exploration.

Plus considering how poorly ecology is understood and given life's capacity to astound and adapt, it is never just mountain high or valley low. Environmentalists and rival drilling teams have expressed concern over Russia's methods and worry about contamination, suggesting that a more isolated and smaller lake ought to have been probed first, to see if it could be done safely, rather than going after the biggest. I think, though, that the Russian scientists are keenly aware of this and will take every precaution. Exploration does not equate to exploitation, and they know that to taint this discovery would be to lose a unique chance and there has been enough propaganda from science fiction to give anyone pause. The project has been carried out in careful phases, under the assumption that exotic microbes live in this environment. Confirmation would strengthen the case for Earth-like, familiar, organisms on the satellites Europa and Enceladus, icy moons harbouring subterranean seas. Despite whatever corollaries are drawn to imaged alien life, this process excites the imagination and respect for the unknown even more. What if the artefacts of some Lovecraftian race lost to the ages are found? These water flowed millions of years ago on a subtropical land joined with Australia. Science and science-fiction both are accomplished at postulating.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

taxman or special drawing rights

There is a wealth of advice, some professional and modular, suitable for tailoring, and some common-sense that demands one dispatch with mistake-prone sentimentalities and panic, regarding managing one's personal finances and home-economics. There also seems to be, however, a terminal severing of connections pervading otherwise good tips. The utility of money (and that's all it is, a utility, like electricity and water and heat--essential and essentially takes care of itself) diminishes with an embarrassment of riches, as the cost (and perhaps the worth, as well) of things approaches zero.  On the other hand, juggling sacrifices makes one unable to plan and budget and look inward to the narrow horizon of those same sentimentalities and panic. There is a disconnect on both ends of the spectrum, which just exacerbates the situation all around and perpetuates gentrification.

Often, one is commended to pay oneself first, which is helpful and positive and makes one make the conscious decision to negotiate the obligations and think about savings--though savings at its poor rate of return is usually at odds with paying down debt, whose interest negates the benefit of savings. A third of one's income should probably be sequestered, however, and with a tangible goal in mind--paying forward, paying off one's loans, saving for a home, and not just some comfort-zone where the worth of things is reduced to specks. All of this takes some discipline to execute and pays off in the end. Some people, the day-trader and the generally nervous set, I think however need something more immediate, creeping but visible and effective. One should still set aside something for the future first and then corral what's needed for essentials and make do with the rest, and perhaps a way to do that--and not forget the value of a dollar, would be to tax oneself. After all, all levels of government, in war and peace, have been funding all of their activity, maybe up until very recently though creditors have always been around too, through tax revenues. One should follow one's bank statement with a critical eye and levy a financial transaction tax against each withdraw, say of 1%, and place a duty on other items according to utility, endurance and necessity. Tax at 10% gifts not budgeted for and 100% that extra coffee bought at the gas station out of laziness when a little planning would have saved some money. Depending on how easily one can transfer between accounts, calculate one's tax by the week or the day and sock it away in savings. With punishingly regressive rates and arbitrary vice-taxes, one can be as austere and byzantine as one wishes, since it's one's own money, just rescued from the general fund and a good reminder of how one is spending his or her income and financing purchases.

dexterity or hand-jive

Yesterday on the news, I learned about a project and an exhibition that is coming to an end that illustrated the nuanced relationship among humans and machines through one purpose-built scribe. For several months, a robotic-arm from a research laboratory in Karlsruhe has been reproducing the Luther Bible in an early Renaissance hand on a very long, continuous scroll of parchment. Visitors to the exhibition were able to watch the robot in action, and this is not the first time that the research company has offered man-machine engagements meant to spur the imagination and blur preconceptions about interaction, including several parties hosted by robotic disc-jockeys.

I am not sure what the difference is between the written word and the printing-press in terms of (faithful) reproduction, but there is something about the technical acumen and tirelessness that's very alien to the dedication and errata of monks in a scriptorium. Coincidentally, after learning of this robotic feat Atlas Obscura featured in some of newly added destinations a related project from human-hands. Britain's Royal Calligrapher is determined to produce the first complete illuminated manuscript of the Bible since the invention of the printed word. Not being an automaton, the endeavour is taking some time and is yet incomplete, though one can marvel at the heft and artistry of the progress. The calligrapher designed a unique font and has illustrated hundreds of capitals and margins for the undertaking as well, and without volition, this is something a machine could never do. I wonder, however, if one could tell the difference between human creativity and a machine survey of the history of human art and orthography for an approximation of imagination, and notwithstanding technical perfection and fatigue, would we be able to tell the difference and what would that mean. I guess those are the kinds of questions such spectacles ask.

Monday, 6 February 2012

sexagennial or diamond jubilee

Her Majesty, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor Batten-berg,  Queen of Ireland and the British Dominions Beyond the Seas, Defender of the Faith, Lord of Mann, Duke of Normandy, &c. is celebrating the beginning of her sixtieth year on the throne, and plans extensive tours this year to celebrate her legacy and reconfirm her commitment to her subjects. She has seen and overseen a great deal of transformation in her domain, public and private, and has remained dedicated and engaged, reserved and steadfast, and bound as much by ceremony and traditions which certainly bear further study, continues to be an inspiration. That an institution and a personality can weather with grace and determination six decades of change that has over-turned many others is certainly an impressive feat.  Joining millions of other well-wishers, I hope that the Queen's professionalism and service endures for years to come.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

docking bay 94 or suitable for framing

Via Boing Boing and Neat-o-Rama, the galleries at Tor.com have curated an outstanding collection of modern art reinterpreted with science-fiction movie themes.
These two works from John Mattos, first reimagining Pablo Picasso's the Three Musicians with the Figrin D'an Band and other elements from the Cantina at Mos Eisley and then Marcel Duchamp's iconic abstract painting with C-3PO descending a staircase, are among the best.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

what time is it, ma?

Why, it's Deco Time! We're presenting a new blog that H has put together that will feature some of our antique finds along with educational resources and reference material. It is still in the developmental stages, but it is sure to showcase some fun and fine stuff.

retracta and rokovania

I wonder sometimes whether journalism is investigative, self-promoting or merely stumbled upon. I suspect that it is usually the later, rather than the first, and sometimes more notice is made of the breach, the pass rather than keeping to the ceremony of record-keeping and minutes-taking. The nearly universal ascension to the ACTA (EN/DE) treaty happened without notice nor a blip on the RADAR of main-stream journalism and only the rage and defiance of a few brave and informed souls in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. Now, a bit wiser but still without the leave of the news, protests are being staged in London and other capitals against some of the provisions of the treaty, including in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.
The Slovenian signatory, the ambassador to Japan, has released a public apology (in English), first to her children and then to her fellow-citizens for having committed their futures to such a far-reaching atrocity in one of the most articulate, heart-felt and honest statements from a politician that I have had the pleasure of reading in some time. All statecrafters ought to take note. It is the public's duty to snoop around what makes the headlines and is writ large and one cannot rely on go-to journalism to reveal every back-room deal that is coming out of Davos, the EU Parliament or the US Congress, which have all been scuttled in the media as something dull and irrelevant by design, but some of the terms of ACTA would make such snooping harder, and hopefully these rallies can draw the needed attention to what national leaders are consigning their people to.

Friday, 3 February 2012

dibba, dubai, abu dhabi

Tensions mounting over the flow of traffic through that potential choke-point of the Strait of Hormuz come from a wide array of trajectories, with a lot of significance and history not only in tow but also projecting, deferring antagonism into some imagined and virtual future. The arts, cultures, diplomacies, histories and scholarship of the people of Persia, as it is for a lot of other peoples of the region, have been saddled with a great unplumbed and sad ignorance on the part of many outsiders and reckon their story only begins with twilight colonialism and the framework of shoves and tugs of foreign policy.

Though quick to forget and disinclined to learn, Iran’s choices in self-determination come in spite of international manipulation, and rather than because of whatever outsiders attribute to the attested doctrine of deterrence of the country. There is a sophisticated technical and scientific community in Iran, and were such a group gathered elsewhere, I think, no accusations of violence would muddle the research. Furthermore, although much different in character and circumstance, with an eye to the past, I would not be surprised if out of the massing armada or lands just out of range there did not come a dubious and distorted casus belli, like the Gulf of Tonkin Incident that lead Vietnam Conflict and the irrevocable license against Communist aggression. What is going against the traffic is the projections and predictions--the congestion of the present standoff careering head on with abstract and hypothetical contingencies and future threats of embargoes (and consequent shortages) that (both) won't come into effect for months.  These conflicts coming from different and undefined vectors are what creates tension and obstacles to understanding.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

rumour-mill

Although the deportment, the way they choose to carry themselves, of senior military leadership, under all flags, I think, does not excuse or explain all the murky prospecting that has been carried out in the name of democracy, provocation and business-interests, I do think that that deportment, however, does play into how leadership handles morale, uncertainty and rumour management.

There has been a lot of talk and speculation in German press, surely instigated by gossips official and unofficial pressing to have heard what they want to hear, regardless of realities or outcomes, about significant reduction of the presence of the American Army in Europe, a winnowing down to a few enduring locations. It is strange that this news, which has been in the works for some time depending on who one asks--or is as fresh as the latest market boom and bust, coincides with the annual Munich Security Conference and the announcement that Ramstein Airbase will host the NATO missile shield command, which is a provocative move to many of the successor powers of the Cold War belligerents. It is difficult to say if these changes are reaffirming a commitment on the part of the US to its NATO alliance or represent its distancing. It is one of the biggest challenges to deliver reassurance in opposition to what one wants to hear, but it is a challenge proper to leadership nonetheless, and it does not seem very much in keeping with restraint to spread rumours oneself, as the echo-chamber of military hierarchy has done. It's strange also having lived for so long as sort of a stateless individual, not a political refuge or someone disenfranchised any more or less than any one of the voting class, without congressional representation, unlike for residents attached to a state with an advocate to rage against reduction in forces and base-closings. There's no apparent wheeling-and-dealing overseas and not many tears shed in Congress over these changes, and at other times, the lack of interference is most welcome, especially considering the bearing and posture that comes with it. By deportment, I mean that run-a-way instinct for preservation that has been made dilute and calculated and usual takes the form of yes-men and conformists who'll serve out their terms in safety and security, making their world friendlier to their ilk. Such behaviour leaves a proverbial battlefield as well of bad decisions which usually need the same attendant walk-back in the end.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

prognosticate, procrastinate

I am a bit early, but there is cause to commemorate the approaching day that marks the tenth anniversary of my arrival in Germany. The date is only stamped in an expired passport in a drawer somewhere but I can visualize it--though I never connected the date with Groundhog Day before. Tomorrow, it's Groundhog Day--again, and it's weird and wonderful that an event that's a mix of traditions and folk-beliefs can be articulated to a degree where the roots are nearly overshadowed and yet still take on more meaning, metaphysical and metaphoric. By the way, does anyone else, on the first morning of the month, somersault out of bed and shout "Rabbit, Rabbit?"  The same routines don't loop back on themselves, outside of work certainly, and every day is an adventure, with many that bear repeating.