Sunday, 29 April 2012

east-enders

In order to ensure that security theatre see its caliber of performance bolstered by no less than the finest special effects and pyrotechnics, MiniDef is installing (with no pretense at discretion) an anti-aircraft missile battery on top of a residential estate in East London, where some seven hundred people live.

This vantage point affords security forces a commanding view of the games’ venues as well as urban airports, probably of the new US Embassy construction site too. The building of such a gargoyle is really the limit: no doubt everyone hopes that the event of the summer benefits one and all, but it is hard to accept that anyone aside from corporate sponsors and defense contractors are going to come through the hassle any richer for the experience. It is no great strain on the imagination to think up ways that this could go terribly wrong, and if such measures are deemed necessary and the threat is in any way tenable, shouldn’t the whole affair have been called off long ago, to spare the expense and all the humiliation for the regular people of London? There are easier avenues for the promotion of public safety—and imagine what’s not hailed in the news and carried out publicly if we are already privy to this—but the business of security has become self-perpetuating and won’t obligingly be forced back to its original confines.

brigadoon or unscheduled appearance

Though more concerned presently is on keeping Venice and other islands from sinking further below the waves, our favourite BLDG BLOG reports on the very curious case of the sometimes island of Ferdinandea. Presently a volcanic seamount in the Mediterranean off the coast of Sicily and directly north of the island of Lampedusa, which garnered attention during the revolutionary Spring of North Africa when an influx of refugees came into this nearest port of the European Union.

Ferdinandea’s most famous and prominent appearance was when it broke the surface in the year 1831, causing quite a sensation (quite expected for an island appearing overnight and without warning) with many scientists and celebrities visiting the tiny basalt shoal with two lake-like depressions and even sparking a minor international crisis over disputed claims: the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the United Kingdom, Spain and France all saw strategic importance in this little rock. Some were even alarmed that this outcropping might be the first stage of an entire chain of volcanic islands that would join Sicily to Tunisia, changing dramatically the definition of Europe and Italy’s crown. The tensions were soon quelled, however, when after five months, the island was reclaimed by the sea, almost as abruptly as it had appeared. Aside from a few rare intervening appearances, including an incident when the seamount was bombed in the shallows by American fighter jets, believing the marauding island was a Libyan submarine, Ferdinandea is lounging about six meters beneath the waves but could, at any time, rise again.

Friday, 27 April 2012

rushmore

The fourth President of the United States, author of the Federalist Papers and significant contributor to the US Constitution, James Madison called government the greatest reflection of human nature.
Invoking the so-called Founding Fathers can be a tricky thing, since they are used as straw men many times for arguments that they’d rather not be brought into and reductio ad absurdum positions. No constitution is inviolate and can of course be read selectively. Madison said many sage things that are resounding and ought not to be forgotten and are certainly more agile, adaptive and current than the language of any law or designs at strategy. Though the charter documents of America could not have anticipated the complex environment of an intricately connected world, Madison was able to address, succinctly, the latest incarnation of nightmarish Orwellian conveniences being thrust upon the whole planet at America’s behest: “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” After public outrage and protest defeated SOPA and PIPA and lamed ACTA, the US government was amazingly quick to regroup with the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). This law’s essential powers and scope are the same as its avatars—only the justification was changed from piracy to the more serious-sounding threat of corporate espionage perpetrated by Russian and Chinese agents, intent on sabotaging America’s prosperity and economic edge.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

mission midas or bergwerk im all

A cadre of adventuring entrepreneurs are making incremental moves, in earnest, to go prospecting in the asteroid belt (DE/EN).  Although I am not sure of the details, whether the project will live up to romanticized notions from science-fiction and space opera with heroes and villains and high risk—or if the risks of this melodrama only pertains to business and investor losses and there’s only the tremolo-bravery of disposable robots and swarms of tug boats and pick-axes.
Either way, such a vision and ambition is something exciting and sure to have broader repercussions, like the cadre promises, of not only material wealth and resources and also tutoring (remediating) mankind in space exploration, and I cannot fully understand some of the jadedness and cynicism that’s being cast towards this enterprise—well, I understand some of the suspicion given the rank privilege that corporations enjoy and pulling down shooting-stars should not give us license to be more wasteful and less environmentally-conscience, especially considering how dirty, invasive and creeping terrestrial mining operations are. Efficiency won’t be necessarily discredited either, just because rare-earth and trace metals and alloys are increasingly precious components of current electronics and material manufacturing might become common-place; technology will still advance and probably in surprising ways. This research and exploration may not only succeed in overcoming the pettier expense barriers and lead to bolder experimentation and engineering developments, mining asteroids, while possibly not unearthing some alien mutagenic virus or uncovering the artifacts of an ancient civilization (perhaps we are the claim-jumpers) or finding unexpected residents, it will at least force us to think about the possibility of such wondrous and exotic things and give us a bit of a foothold beyond this poor abused and hollowed-out world.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

presto-chango or mission abolished

Though ostensibly in response to the promise of more moderate and democratic regimes in the wake of the Arab Spring (which caught the West off-guard, though now they are trying to countermand the movement and cultivate partnerships), elements within the US executive branch have pronounced the war on terror to be over, the tide receding. I truly hope that peace, openness and reason will return to fill that void, idleness of the machines of war, but I suspect that prosecuting terrorists is merely transmuting into something more devious and shadowy, and puts the conduct and shell-diplomacy of the US just a few precious notches above the forces and ideals that they were fighting against, until just now. The armed forces, vetted and contained by Congress, and the foreign service corps of America are being drastically cut, only to be replaced with mercenaries and all-seeing harpies. 
 One important characteristic, at least one that was highlighted by the US for justification, of terrorism is that these groups fight unconventionally, outside of the context and oversight of government and law. This shift to contracted warfare, rendition, secret operations sounds uncomfortably similar to the modus operandi of enemy combatants, unaccountable and held to no standards or overarching consensus.  Soldiers-of-Fortune do not exactly seem promising, not only in keeping the peace but also in terms of real defense from real threats.  Add to the formula the erosion of civil liberties, income disparities, chronic under-employment and a representative democracy that has strayed far from its intended purpose and process, America is becoming more rogue and difficult to distinguish as a leader among nations.

Monday, 23 April 2012

synaxarion or by george!

Though Germany is one of the few places not wholly under the patronage of Saint George and Germany has another event to mark on this day—the anniversary of the enactment of the Reinheitsgebot, the Saint Day has universal recognition and usually falls (the feast can be preempted by Easter) on a strange amalgam of celebrations that are as varied and involved as his cult and veneration. Aside from beer, literature is also synthetically celebrated on this day, due to it being the anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes’ death and the anniversary of both William Shakespeare’s birth and death (though this coincidence is a bit contrived because of subsequent calendar reforms)—books are a traditional St. George’s Day gift.

For Saint George himself, festivities can range from the civic to national to professional observances for the many places and vocations (including blacksmiths, butchers, farmers, miners and beer-barrel makers) he covers. The historical personage was an accomplished and respected leader of the imperial guard in Roman Palestine, and although a favourite of the Emperor, was martyred for making a spectacle of his refusal to recognize the pagan household gods. Apparently, his faith inspired a revolt among the people and military ranks, overturning the ban against Christianity. Where the bit about the dragon comes in is not so clear. I always felt kind of sorry for the dragon, but it was more than just a nuisance, demanding livestock- or maiden-sacrifices from villagers in exchange for access to their oasis and water supply. Then, instead of taking the act, George slaying the dragon (symbolizing Rome, perhaps) to save the life of the chieftain’s daughter who drew the bad lot after all the sheep and goats had been devoured, as a fait accompli, I prefer to think of it as a continuous battle, a tumbling and constant struggle like the eternal standoffs seen in the constellations.
This fiery perseverance is something internalized, perhaps, as the choices that confront us all the time and the sometimes delayed realization that choices and acts have consequences. I like how this imagery has been propagated and the hero is acknowledged in his homelands and far beyond, and his icons and devotions are spread from the Middle East to the nation of Georgia, to the flag of England and the Arab world because of widespread miraculous acts and visions of the Saint on the eve of battle.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

visa visum

The careless rhetoric of political campaigns can certainly re-phrase backwards proposals as something benign. The European Union is a striving towards perfection through integration and cooperation, and while though it may still have hard battles ahead of it (exacerbated by the economic climate and political scapegoating), one should approach the subject of closing boarders with extra caution. To have reinvented an entire continent of some four-hundred million people as an entity with no internal border control is a hallmark of the EU, extended even to more people than use the euro.  Citizens of Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein also enjoy this privilege, though the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons did not fully agree to the terms of the treaty and still exercise elements of border controls with the rest of the EU.

Freedom of movement and the consequent right of abode and right to seek employment is one of the founding principles of the EU, and France and Germany, by proposing to exercise a seemingly innocent closing of their borders for a temporary period (not to exceed thirty days), are pandering to the fear of xenophobes and those who imagine their particular work-ethics to be sacrosanct. Some factions of the governments of France and Germany who would like the option to suspend the Schengen Accords are squarely blaming those outlying members, like Italy, Greece and Spain, for not better policing their external borders. The arrangement states that the first country to receive migrants are responsible for ensuring that the immigration process is carried out or that they leave once over staying their welcome, but these frontier lands are accused of lax controls and of sending on their arrivals to neighbouring states—i.e., France and Germany. I doubt that this characterization is entirely accurate, but given the financial hardships imposed on these same countries, so called austerity-programmes that have decimated funding for such public-sector affairs, I would not be entirely surprised if this situation was developing. Maybe there does need to be reforms and the terms of the treaty does allow for member states to protect their interests, but it does seem rather disingenuous and to confirm some of the criticisms of the skeptics who argued that the Schengen Zone is somewhat a one-way street, facilitating vacations for holiday-makers but less open and forthcoming for local-colour infringing on home-territory.

triangle man

In a follow-up interview, after adding his voice to the chorus of educators, entrepreneurs, innovators, futurists, writers and artists expressing grave concern over the openness and continued utility of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee (DE/EN), who made the internet accessible though his perseverance and invention of hypertext mark-up language, made a very eloquent remark that should be all rights be the coup de grâce and last word to the bullies of the world.

Berners-Lee simply said that the internet is bigger than the entertainment industry, bigger than record labels and movie studios. The potential for fostering creativity and discovery and the threat to this freedom of congress is much more significant than the grossly magnified grievances of a few thuggish companies, who have the backing of politicians and inflated claims of damages. In fact, although apparently we’d be better off believing the charm-offensive that equates copyright integrity to the last bastions against all the nightmarish ills of the world, the scale of economy of the entertainment industry is relatively tiny and could be handily absorbed (though I doubt the situation would be improved) by anyone of the technological giants that has built empires of connectivity. We have been put at the mercy of bullies in a lot of other ways as—and though it’s an obvious statement, we’d do better not to forget again: freedom, honesty, integrity are bigger than any illusory security; peace and unity are bigger than any one nation’s peccadilloes or aspirations; not demonizing others is bigger than spreading one’s personal gospel; conserving nature is bigger than profits (though for the last two, forces are ardently at work with discrediting keeping matters in perspective). Understanding scale and priority is something that we are all capable of at first glance, and despite efforts to skew and burden our feelings, I think, with a gentle reminder, we’re able to see through that deception as well.

Friday, 20 April 2012

one-off or noch eins


When the great mall-tree, the schef-felera whose bran-ches make a canopy over the bed, flowered last year for the first time, I guessed that was all the generative action we'd see out of it for the next decade or so. I thought plants that took time to mature were patient and stategically territorial, like a Century Plant (Agave americana).

 I was surprised to see these stalks emerge again. I was also surprised and happy at the same time to find that the geranium that sprouted from the little nub of root that I salvaged from the balcony last Autumn survived. I had heard that one can sometimes keep the roots in a cellar and urge them to grow for a second season, but I didn't think I'd discover that it was a white (rather than a red) hanger-on.


furor teutonicus

There has been much fanfare over the past week about a survey (Umfrage) of the American public that confirms a general affinity between Germans and their American cousins.

 I am sure that it is a combination of factors, like many Americans having some German ancestry, military partnerships—at least an understanding—familiar products, like beer, food and automotives, that could have endured as a tacit acknowledgment, as I am sure it has for years. Slow-news days are probably also a contributing dynamic. Depth of knowledge and stereotypes aside—the thrust of the battery of interview questions and responses seem to mainly involve economics—I wonder if American public perceptions of Germans aren’t a focus, an ideal corrective lens for how they’d like to see themselves. Secure and stable and comfortably bourgeois without the outward signs of massive inequity or fanaticism or hysteria; socially and environmentally conscious yet relatively conservative and traditional without excluding other persuasions. It seems this way, at least. The two acts are not connected, but it really does seem the antithesis (and not a reciprocation or extension—perhaps rather a back-handed compliment), but it does seem strange that the European Union parliament moved to back accords (Abkommen) to share air-traveler data between Europe and the US. The American security apparatus will have fifteen years to ruminate over their guests’ profiles, but the judgment that this was not in violation of individuals’ privacy rights rather lowers the standard, instead of giving America a standard to aspire to.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

manuscript culture or head-up forward crawl

Several luminaries of internet architecture have recently had some sharp and needful words regarding the restrictive environment that governments and businesses are cultivating. Current conditions certainly would not have fostered free-exchange, creativity and innovation and the internet, in terms of content and scope could not have developed as it had. Increasingly aggressive policies are being reinvented and re-flagged under different names but with the same unsavoury and prying aims. That assault and invasion is awful enough, but critics are also right to broach the trend towards compartmentalization.
Like some medieval scriptorium, a lot of information, news and culture meant also for the broader public is being concentrated by aggregators into isolated platforms that are card-catalogues that are at most offering a tantalizing abstract or a bit of nosiness. In the tradition of antique librarians, this inventory, cultivated and expansive as an almanac or chronology, is jealously guarded, and though bidden by the same hosts, come with a caveat of conformity and house-rules. Increasingly, whatever is shared behind the arras of social-networks and networking-applications is really being shunted down a memory-hole, perhaps not forgotten but verging towards inaccessible, like video and cassette tapes and other obsolete forms of coding. What treasures and histories, discoverable but undiscovered, are relegated to film, floppy disks and format? Or even hidden in the shipwrecks of faded enterprises—like mySpace and other groups? Cultural heritage, when and where it can be shared ought not be sequestered or offered up to a repository—especially one whose conditions and conduct are not transparent. Patience and native-curiosity may save what’s in the stacks, physical archives, basements, attics and junk-drawers from oblivion, but as more and more research is confined to digital media and what’s readily accessible, I do not think humans are very backwards-compatible.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

three-letter initialism

Though the US Internal Revenue Service is in fact a federal agency and not a largely autonomous entity like the Federal Reserve Banking system, deriving authority from its expanded charges but accountable to no one, America I think is poised to endow this other creation, the IRS, with similar dreadful powers. I suspect (and hope) that the intent is not as scary and grasping as some are making it out to be, but like other familiars of industrial and puritanical helpfulness that have grown out of bounds and terrorize the public much more than the unseen forces that they claim to combat (the TSA, FBI, DEA, FDA, EPA, CIA, NSA, DHS—and the DOT, the FED and IRS). Buried within a broader transportation bill to ensure continued funding for the US interstate highway system, rappelling its way through the US Congress, there is a clause (open of course to broad interpretation) that grants authorities the power to revoke one’s passport should the bearer be found delinquent (these two words cover an entire spectrum of meaning) on tax obligations.
 In theory, under this unholy alliance, a border patrol officer could bar an individual owing $50 000 in back taxes from leaving the US but I suppose that there is a large potential for such powers to uncoil and become much broader and more restrictive in terms of freedom of movement. This is the same mentality that has unleashed scads unending of rarified dollars on the world markets and driving inflation, or that has created a tax-regime that put such an administrative obligation on foreign banks (to do the jobs the IRS couldn’t manage itself) that doing business with Americans is becoming a liability, not remorsefully unburdened. What of the some 30 000 US soldiers or 98 000 government employees, many of whom are working overseas, that owe taxes? Is movement stopped for them as well? I imagine that enforcement would have to be equitable and without exemption, so no individual would feel targeted and singled-out because of his or her views. Everyone benefits in some way from the services, security or stability that government provides through tax revenue and again no one can simply shirk their duty, but (again) if America was earnest about taking in what’s owed them, they would go after businesses and corporations who’ve profited the most off of the market environment that the US has created and not devise a new mechanism to rustle the pockets of private citizens for diminishing returns. One further hopes that the helix of the secretive no-fly list or the battlefield Earth judgments of the National Defense Authorization Act (DE/EN) does not join up with the one of this collection-service, since then we would all be put in the dark.

Monday, 16 April 2012

birthday paradox or pigeon-hole principle

The Pope celebrated his birthday today with an appropriately Bavarian entourage of well-wishers bringing some characteristically German traditions to Rome. He was treated to quite a few performances from this delegation. The Pope, the first German to hold the office in over a thousand years, shares his birth date with another, though perhaps less famous, German citizen, hailing from Erfurt, the city where Martin Luther was ordained and the Pope visited last September: Germany’s first test-tube baby (sogennante Retortenbabies, which sounds especially cruel, although test-tube is bad enough, as if they were sea-monkeys or kangaroo-joeys).

No details were disclosed on that young adult born in 1982 spent his birthday. I wonder what these two Aries would think of one another. The star or the conditions that one is born under of course is not everything, and the birthday problem refers to the very human propensity to make something out of a not so unlikely coincidence, whereas it would be more statistically remarkable if a randomly assembled and relatively small group did not have a few individuals that shared the same birthday. Still, I wonder what these two might have in common and what they might learn from one another.

776.012

Sunday, 15 April 2012

tribute or bread and circuses

I think that the Olympic Games have officially become more commercialized than Christmas or guilt. Since the Australian games of 2000, as the Guardian reports, the International Olympic Committee has been making exponentially greater demands of its host cities for enforcing the market capitalization of official sponsors.

For the upcoming event, authorities have been given an onerous charge of making sure no opportunist, ambusher (I suspect that such draconian measures created ambush-marketing in the first place) or bystander have the potential for profit by association with a date, place or Zeitgeist of what is supposed to be a celebration of culture, sportsmanship and human achievement. Not only are pubs not permitted to invite customers to watch the broadcasts on their premises or even dare suggest that they are in fact physically located near a venue (or cohabitate in the same dimension), players and spectators are not allowed to share footage or photographs over social networks under threat of criminal punishment. Given also the marked increase in surveillance, security theatre and hassle (a rise for a place already one nation under CC-TV) and the mysterious prohibition against athletes shaking-hands, a prophylactic for some unnamed social disease, being picked as the setting for this and other large-scale, officially sanctioned happenings does not seem such a great trade-off.

inútil

Retronaut curated a series of funny comic book panels depicting rubbish superpowers (but does include this image of this Legion-hopeful being summarily rejected). What would your highly specific and apparently of limited utility superpower be? There are unfortunately more and more situations when Colour Kid's abilities could prove useful.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

widget

Hungarian artist Martzi Hegedüs crafted an impossible character-set called Frustro, the font inspired by the Penrose tribar and MC Escher-esque architecture. I think this is brilliant and I wonder if advances in three-dimensional printing could manage to produce tubes for neon signs that appear to twist like this.
When I was little and first posed a question of hypothetical industrialists—i.e., someone running a widget factory, I always wondered (and still do envision it like this) what their product would be. I imagined a widget must have been this other impossible shape—a blivet or the devil's tuning fork, whose tines also produce a frustrating and dizzying optical illusion.  I thought that was as good a hypothetical product as any.

redux or a man, a plan, kofi annan

While I have respect for the former United Nations’ Secretary General and hope that his mission does help stop violence and blood-shed, there is something decidedly unsavoury and inscrutable about the ways in which Western concerns are being manifest presently—along a continuum of interference and strategy—for the future of Syria and the whole region. If reports and accounts by the opposition are accurate, the present regime’s clinging to power is probably serving no one, but a peace negotiated by the US and the UN could be a very suspect treaty indeed, who may well be basing their assessments off of another disgruntled Curveball character (DE/EN). Since Western involvement with Libya, there has been a marked departure from the uprisings and revolutions of the Arab Spring, which took much of the world unawares, and like bankers and speculators trying to profit from the controlled-collapse of distressed and overburdened markets, petroleum-politicians are wanting events to unfold or crumple on their terms.

It all seems a bit opaque—outside concern that’s neither quite spontaneous nor quite a natural consequence of emboldened rebellions or business interests, but yet like déjà vu all over again. Pacifying Syria may also appear a selfish, self-interested and calculated endeavour in the larger framework of the parallel troubles that are occurring in the region, which I believe are bundled together in the view of most of the public and diplomatic corps: tensions are growing over Iran, a fulcrum waiting to tip one way or the other depending on which hostile fires the first volley. Despite the arguments of many authorities who hold that the country maintains only a scientific and benign nuclear programme, the West insisting that Iran recant hostilities that it has not perpetrated and a weapons programme that it probably does not even have. Such swaggering demands sound uncomfortably like the trigger and fuse for another American led crusade, and local yapping it is not helping mattering. It is also not reassuring that the Arab Spring awoke in the lumbering police-states of the US and the UK, leading by example, their penchants for spin, censorship and holding a population in contempt and under complete surveillance—outstanding examples of what they purport to combat in foreign lands. I hope that negotiations can help save lives and preserve livelihoods for the Syrian people but without orchestrating prime conditions for neo-colonialists and the West to battle for and amongst themselves by proxy.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

jump-start

I was very happy to see that the woman who works at the bank in the neighbourhood where my office is brought her Bully, the same model as ours, out of hibernation with a fresh paint job and detailed. She calls hers her Lady as well. At the same time, I was a little sad that our Lady did not quite come barnstorming out of the garage from her long Winter's nap, but I am sure we will get in her top form again for further adventures for this Spring and Summer and for many to follow. She just needs a little nudge and will be rewarded with a lot of care and getting all decked out, as well.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

penal colony

The European Union court of human rights has issued an ominous ruling, siding with the United Kingdom’s wish to extradite (render) five individuals from British soil to the United States for foregone incarceration. This is a difficult and emotional matter, since unwelcome by the majority of the public and accused of inciting and abetting acts of terrorism—though with an array of different charges against each one, these individuals by their conduct and most would argue by their potential have relinquished their rights to remain in the UK. It still sets a dangerous precedent, however, owing that one can banish its undesirables and incorrigibles to the US for safe-keeping. Proponents argue that the American prison (though not justice) system is better equipped to house these villains, and this sub-contracting of one’s due-process reminds me of that episode of The Outer Limits where those ant-like alien creatures use the Earth as a penal colony for its misfits, knowing that humans will dispose of them. The public verdict of these individuals has already reached its sentencing phase, I think, but it is worrisome how mutable the standards might become within this framework and one could potentially in the future be evicted for any number of anti-social behaviours.

aberglaube or friggatriskaidekaphobia

The superstition and fear surrounding Friday, the 13th seems much abused, like a hypochondriac’s frenzy or made-up disorders and diseases installed for purposes of pill-pushing—or even feuding among werewolves and vampires and hybrids. While it probably is contrived and a very modern invention (with no clear evidence before the mid nineteenth century) the individual elements of Friday and the number thirteen have associations with bad luck. Friday, though certainly not universally, is shunned as a inauspicious day for beginning voyages by sailors for many other professional ventures and Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Thirteen is awkward numerologically speaking, especially as it is the perfection, completeness-motif of twelve, plus one: at the Last Supper, Judas was the thirteenth guest; in the Nordic pantheon, the mischievous Loki was the thirteenth god; there are twelve chief Olympian gods—twelve houses of the zodiac, twelve tribes of Israel and twelve legatees of Mohammed in the Shi’a tradition. Superstitions (Aberglaube), folklore in a modern currency, make for strange juxtapositions and embellished and abstracted do much to reinforce our own capricious behaviour.

rosamunde

One would assume that all cultural trappings of a place are as old as the hills, however, like Oktoberfest, Biergärten in Germany just marked their two-hundredth anniversary this year. The German brewing purity laws had already been in effect for centuries when Bavarian King Maximilian I allowed that brewers could serve beer from their cooling vats in January of 1812.

For reasons of temperance and temperature—for fermentation and the heat from boiling huge quantities of water—beer could only be manufactured from early Autumn to late Spring, between the feast days of Saint Michael and Saint George. And though this ensured superior beer and reduced the risk for fires, suppliers, hoteliers and restaurateurs risked running out of beer for the summertime. As a solution, the bigger breweries in Munich (and spreading elsewhere) constructed giant cellars along the banks of rivers for storing the cooling vats. Shade from trees and gardens planted atop these buried barrels further helped regulate the temperature. Soon, the major brewers began serving customers directly. Quickly these bootleg establishments became popular retreats, but guesthouses in town, fearing losing more customers, petitioned the King to bar these garden-parties from serving food, other than bread which evolved into the host fare that one can find at traditional Biergärten. This appeased the smaller breweries (without property fronting the river) and restaurants, but also created a rich and enduring tradition out of a work-around.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

rigel 7

Later in the year, we are going to visit fabulous Las Vegas and we are very excited about the all the exotic sights to see in that desert playground. I think it is really a shame, however, that one resort experience planned for Vegas never made it beyond the sandbox. In 1992, capitalizing on the enormous popularity of the Star Trek franchise—The Next Generation and the later spin-offs of Voyager and Deep Space Nine—and wanting to revive the downtown area, the Strip with the colossal casinos and hotels was the bigger tourists’ draw, a group of investors and architects proposed creating a Star Trek theme park with a towering, full size (non-operational) model of the Enterprise housing space age accommodations—the standard complement of crew being 430, dining and entertainment, keeping true to the series. High speed elevators would shuttle guests around—perhaps between the Holodeck and a lounge on the ship’s bridge or in the engine room. I imagine that the whole experience would have been beyond surreal and possibly sort of goofy, like those classic episodes from the original series when the crew find themselves confronted with alien civilizations unduly influenced by the wild, wild West or Greek mythology or Prohibition era Chicago gangsters.  It’s too bad really that the project never was launched but it’s comforting that the series still captures the imagination, as much now as back then.

Monday, 9 April 2012

medienecho or leaves of grass

The escalating controversy surrounding the publication of Günter Grass’ poem “What Must be Said,” whose title carries the nuance in German (,,Was Gesagt werden muss”) like, well, there’s no law against saying it, is I believe important for generating dialogue and discussion, which surely was one of his intentions, but has also become a mirror reflecting an unflattering image of ourselves. The hysteria has moved beyond the character-assassination that can shipwreck reputations of anti-Semitism—either soft or direct and violent (any feelings along this continuum are equally dangerous), to divisive statements and declaring the author persona non-grata. Whatever wind is behind sentiment, such matters can be circumspect and thoughtful but ought not to be resolved by politics and forcing allegiances but rather in the same forums that they originally appeared in.
Grass suggests that Israel represents a threat to peace and regional stability in its stance against Iran and promises of swift and complete retaliation, with both players reluctant to show their cards but Western powers willing to overlook Israel’s transgressions and bad conduct. It was always manifest that Grass was referring to the policies of the government of Israel and not the people—primarily. Sadly, it seems that the maturity to address uncomfortable truths are present neither in Israel nor Germany. Criticism is not always nice or even informed but most of us are expected to suffer it without tormenting diplomacy.  I suppose it does not matter how much he tendered or neglected to weigh his words carefully, one can always over-interpret what’s lyric and forge connections that are not there. What is ultimately troublesome, however, is how instantly and vehemently a few verses can pull down judgment that’s reserved but rarely exercised, unleashed on the part of dogmatists and political-ideologues. While there is an unthinking, intuitive connection between Germany and anti-Semitism (that Grass admitted after decades of having been conscripted into the Waffen SS has little bearing, since many other fourteen year olds were likewise deputized with a flashy rank during the last days of the Third Reich and were little more than runners and lackeys for a crumbling order with no authority and no choice in the matter) or between criticism of Israel and unspeakable hatred, few bother to learn about what might be behind all this alarm and panic, and let the former cloud the latter. Maybe public engagement on this sideshow, however a dishonour to real prejudices and institutionalized hate, might make some question their gut-reactions. Likewise, Mr. Grass is no politician, whose gelded words should not invite nuance, yet anything that’s come together with skill and is worthwhile, including the author himself, can disparage vanities and denunciations in hopes that the conversation continues.

jabberwocky or orion’s belt

Contemporary imagineering for skies darkened by flocks of autonomous drones is unsettling enough without harking back to vintage visions of the future and premature excitement over the dawning nuclear age, however, an interesting article from Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine that is over two decades old, reflecting on event more distant Cold War sentiments, previsions that sort of same primed grid of surveillance and offense. After America was dissuaded from pursuing the Orion Project and experimentation with nuclear-propelled space craft due to treaties that underscored how potentially catastrophic arming space and accidents in the upper atmosphere could be for all life on Earth. Partially bemoaning the loss to space exploration and the work of researchers and scientists, attention turned to miniaturization and weaponization with the same ram-jet technology engines that would funnel and focus the force of an atomic explosion that would shuttle forward this sort of infernal, eternal ballistic drone.

This prototype, named Pluto, could cruise the heavens for years, like the fleets of atomic-powered submarines, and be ever poised for a first strike. Once in attack mode, the chthonic god would drop from orbit and skim the tree tops at supersonic speeds, leaving a blazing, irradiated wake as it approached its target. After the payload was dropped, the drone could continue to crisscross enemy territory, poisoning wide swaths of land and leaving a path of destruction. Fortunately, such a monster never made it off the launch pad, mostly over fears of insufficient guidance systems. Now that unmanned aeronautics is a bit more sophisticated (in theory, at least), I hope no one takes a cue from the nuclear age of enthusiasm.

Die heutige Flugroboter sind schlimm genug, aber in der Vergangenheit vom dem Nuklear Goldener Zeit hat man auch gefährlich Personenpotential. Ein zweiundzwanziger-jähriger Beitrag vom Smithsonian Museums (auf Englisch) magazine hatte eine ähnliche Atmosphäre die vollautomatisch Todesmaschinerie und weitverbereitet Abdeckung vorhersagen. Verträge und Wagnis hat Amerika vom Experimentieren mit Nuklearantrieb ins Weltall widerraten. Also damit war dieser Forschung nicht umsonst, haben die Wissenschaftler ihre Aufmerksamkeit auf andere Dinge—wie die Bewaffnung. Die gleiche Grundsätze kann als die Kraftquelle für einer ewiger Drohne benutzt warden, wie ein Atom-U-Bootflotte. Im Angriff-Modus, es wurde ein Sturtzflug machen und halten tief und langsam unterwegs zu sein. Es wurde ein abgebrannter und strahlender Weg durch feindlichen Gelände bahnen. Glücklicherweise wurde keine dieser Prototyp je zustand kam. Hoffenlich wurde aufgrund angebliche Fortschritte in der Technologie zur Kontrolle nieman so wider begeistern.

Friday, 6 April 2012

hippety-hoppety

A very happy Easter weekend to one and all! The Local list features some bunny-based German idioms in the spirit of the season that are both cute and educational.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

ex cathedra

Via the tremendously brilliant Boing Boing, there is a op-ed piece by Richard Clarke (DE/EN), anti-terrorism czar to the Clinton and Bush II administrations, chairman of the 9/11 Commission and cyber-security authority, that once again demonstrates the boundless work-shopping potential of the hubris and reach of the US Department of Homeland Security.

His modest proposal urges the President to augment the role of the DHS and reality (through extended metaphor) by directing the agency to screen all electronic communications leaving the US—literally or figuratively as one would screen baggage or freight, not checking one's laptop at the boarding-gate for contraband but rather outbound information, bits and bytes. This sort of outbox surveillance would not only hinder piracy but also help stop corporate espionage, the editorial maintains. Apparently, American innovation has slipped not because of lack of investment in the sciences and education but rather due to thievery of good ideas by the usual suspects. As it that were not enough, DHS should also monitor the æther for any American data that may have been kidnapped and in circulation beyond its borders.  How this dragnet would work—compelling something incorporeal like data to submit to inspection, interrogation, surrendering fluids, removing its shoes and belt, being harassed by goons, irradiated, a whole process that’s quite off-putting to tourism and might make the data not want to travel back there—I can’t imagine. To try to realize the impossible, however, will surely cause a lot of damage all around since such insane measures usually don’t collapse on themselves without residual and collateral damage.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

honorarium

A very clever young man from the Netherlands, named Jurre Herman, offered a very elegant solution to help staunch the currency-crisis in the euro zone, which I think deserves more than an honourable mention in the open contest economic contest calling for submissions from all sources. Herman suggests that the Greeks, and probably with wider applicability, revert to using the drachma for day-to-day, internal affairs, buying drachmas from the government at an equitable rate with their euros. The government then can use the euro to pay down the debt. The value of the drachma of course drops precipitously but that again can make industry and the labour force more competitive. For those hording euro or stowing it away overseas, there would be a punitive exchange rate applied. And for those doing business internationally, they would be able to sell their drachma back for euro, at a rate slightly favourable to the government. With some tweaking, I think such a plan might work and perhaps economists and analysts are not the one to dictate what is and is not feasible.

kopfgeld

The awkward tension between Switzerland and Germany over emerging taxation treaties, banking reforms and German bounty-hunter tactics has resulted in a legal volley between the two countries, including the arrest-warrants for the offending tax-inspectors, a travel-ban for employees at a major Swiss bank for Germany and harsh language that threatens to undermine any progress on transparency and cooperation struck recently (DE/EN). In February 2010, three German tax-inspectors entered into negotiations with an anonymous former bank executive, perhaps disgruntled, to acquire a data CD pilfered on the executive’s way out, which supposedly contained intelligence on international clients who may or may not have been banking in Switzerland for purposes of tax-evasion (the overwhelming countries and banking systems of choice for tax-dodgers are UK and American parking-spots, despite all the flailing and over-reaching of jurisdiction by Britain and the US) .

There was certainly a lot of second-hand absconding and economic sniping by proxy, but the transaction is ultimately criminal in nature. Neither country’s statutory privacy laws would sanction such an exchange, which was paid for with tax-payer funds by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and it will remain unclear who was baited or was the instigator since the only witness who might have known the executive’s identity committed suicide shortly after the sale. This may be a very chivalrous skirmish, but it is having negative effects on further negotiations for a repatriation programme of secreted money and trust between Europe and the Confederation that’s rooted in plunder. Regardless of philosophical questions and whether the greater good is a Kantian moral imperative, this act was still executed illegally (at best—and there are strong indicators that more intrigue is at work) with the German government knowingly buying stolen goods. What was done cannot be easily undone or forgiven and this blunder deserves discussion, regarding how else financial straits are eroding sovereignty and the rights of private citizens. Swiss laws and Swiss neutrality are constituted differently than German or European Union standards, and it is no accident of history that Switzerland, by direct vote, has refused overtures to join the EU and other institutions time after time. Such stanchness for democracy, instead of wholesale commitment of the public without the public’s assent, is a Swiss hallmark and ought to be respected before the escalating situation can ever be put right.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

churben

Der Spiegel International reports (auf Englisch) that legislation is being entertained in the US Congress, under the close watch of all parties, that would form a legal framework for the survivors or their relatives who were forcibly deported to sue the national railway networks that transported them to concentration and prisoner-of-war camps in Nazi-controlled territory during World War II. The bill’s sponsor calls it the “Holocaust Rail Justice Act,” and while it names the French rail company for complicity specifically and not the Deutsche Bahn, whose responsibility was previously settled (not absolved) in toto with other German businesses, this precedence and allowance could expose many companies to new law suits. The resolution was introduced just over a year ago in mid-March 2011 and has yet to move forward, so I wonder if the refreshed currency of this news is a bit of damage-control or a PR offensive on the part of Deutsche Bahn.
I cannot say whether those who profit from war and human tragedy have made their reparations in full, but it also does not seem like the pursuit will enrich anyone, other than the lawyers.  Suits have been brought up in the past against the rail-lines with American courts as the venue, but all this grasping greed and boundless litigiousness of the new language, which respects neither history, what was ignored then but could never be unseen and what people suffered nor international borders (though no company should be able to cloak itself in national-identity or cast it off to escape its responsibility) honours no one and nothing.

airstrip one or britons never will be slaves

There was a strange, quiet collusion, like a cold-shudder that’s inspired of unseen connections and truly action-at-a-distance, of proposals that came out of the UK government regarding freedom of movement and association. Though the latter, at native initiative, is probably destined to be diluted and pulled apart by public outrage and walked down by checks and balances (a government scheme to grandiosely expand the powers to survey the on-line activities of each and every citizens), the former concerning transportation, is a kowtowing to America’s security apparatus, which might well escape any vestige of debate or scrutiny and land flatly on the traveling public. The assault against the freedom of association, requiring internet service providers to bundle spying hardware with their routers that will log a user’s ambling and contacts (though apparently not the content of emails) seems too ambitious and ill-advised to achieve, like making a map that’s at a one to one ratio.
Such plotting is not good and even if it were technically possible and didn’t put undue hardship on ISPs to denigrate their customers, I wouldn’t be for such an invasion of privacy and violation of trust—though I do believe that such lofty plans are not airworthy and probably ought to be taken in perspective: people volunteer private information all the time on social networks and submit to having their boredom, curiosities and interests tracked by companies and services that may not be less trustworthy than the government. The surrender of freedom of movement is a more worrisome and novel development: US secret no-fly lists have taken on a bit of manifest destiny. A UK citizen, planning to fly to Canada, Mexico or even the Caribbean British holdings (and with no connecting-flight in the States and without passing through American airspace, just near it) could be denied boarding, without warning, if the individual (or someone bearing a similar name) is on the list or if due to bad record-keeping or technical difficulties, the computer cannot prove that the individual is not named therein. This of course has no relation to reality either (to remove oneself for a moment and remember that the intent is to keep people safe), but it’s like an American citizen being told that he or she cannot fly from Los Angeles to Honolulu because the Public Service Intelligence Agency of Japan has unclear or incomplete files on the traveler—but the denied passenger would never know even this much. It is something to send a chill down one’s spine.

Monday, 2 April 2012

fußpfad

Over the weekend, I took a long walk, seeking out a so-called Fossil Trail that I had seen posted beforehand in the area. The local foothill are built up of layer after layer of diatomaceous earth left by the denizens of the shallow sea that spread out from the Baltic millions of years ago. I followed the path for a little bit, but upon not finding a giant trilobite frozen in carbonite lurching from the cliff side, I got distracted. The trail, post-dating the signs which were somewhat lacking and aimless but maybe also removed for this healthy cachet, was modernized into a Nordic hiking path, which was quite nice too but kind of took away from the fossil hunting aspect. I did, however, come across an interesting installation early on: a reflexology (Reflexologie) experience with a little wading pool to refresh one’s tired feet.

The information board discussed the therapeutic obstacle course, illustrated by the principle of corres-pondence between bodily organs and specific pressure-points on the feet and the legendary Skiapod (EN/DE), one of the lost tribes of men that stamped around on a single giant foot, and a strange, unexplained standing-stone that was just as good as some old trace of fossil. I had seen a similar track along a jogging path before but as I was wearing my Handschuh-Schuhe then I don’t think I got the full experience. I trounced through it, over bits of broken glass, polished and not jagged but I thought that was funny like celebrities daring to walk over hot coals in Circus of the Stars, wine corks, sand, bridges and platforms. It was invigourating and certainly an interesting and mindful way to start or finish one’s hike.

okey-gnocchi

H made a quite delicious dish for dinner the other night, a casserole that was pretty involved and managed to bring together different casserole strata on a foundation of gnocchi that seemed like at first wouldn’t mix too well. It turned out especially tasty, however, and had a very geologically varied texture.

To make two large portions:
200 g of jarred mushroom slices
150 g of firm (a touch underripe) cherry tomatoes, quartered
3-4 leeks, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or pressed
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of tomato past
1 tablespoon of flour (or substitute)
200 g of crème
600 g of gnocchi, fresh—or from the refrigerated section
Butter to coat the casserole dish
100 g mozzarella, cubed
100 g shredded cheese—like Gouda
Salt, pepper and oregano to taste

In a bit of hot oil, sear the cherry tomatoes and season. Set the tomatoes aside but reuse the pan with a bit more oil to fry the leeks and garlic. Add the mushrooms and allow them to sear. Add the tomato paste and flour, letting them sit for a moment before mixing all the ingredients together. Put a pot of water on a free burner for the pasta and preheat the oven to about 200° C (about 400 ° F) Next dollop in the crème and the whole mixture takes an Indian air and add the oregano. Cover and let the pan lightly simmer for about five minutes. This should be just enough time to prepare the gnocchi, according to the package but usually is done fairly quickly. Once the gnocchi is finished and rinsed in a colander, layer the pasta in the casserole dish (buttered) and cover with the tomato and crème sauce. Add the cubes of mozzarella next and cover the whole thing with the shredded cheese. Allow the casserole to bake for about half-an-hour. It’s lava hot, so allow to cool a bit and enjoy.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

off-shore

Given the timing, I was not quite certain whether this story was the April Fools’ Day feature—however that does not matter since this proposal and profile covered by Spiegel is a priceless opportunity to day-dream, not primarily of a cyber-utopia, a safe haven for internet freedom-fighters, but rather, gleaned from the background, a chance for independence and self-governance, albeit in small ways. Certain groups, like Pirate Bay and Wikileaks—in the midst of other daydreaming transformed into reality about servers and hosts deployed in mobile drones or on tankers on the high-seas, are interested in establishing a bank of computers, repositories on the tiny Principality of Sealand, a micronation (DE/EN) founded several decades ago on an abandoned anti-aircraft platform in the North Sea.
Despite legal-limbo and lack of recognition by other sovereigns, the place does enjoy quasi-state-like status, with no taxes levied and little outside interferences. Apparently the regnant was convinced into taking on a similar venture with internet hosting that ended in 2008, but now, through the lens of recent developments in policies threatening an open internet, people are again seriously entertaining the scheme. Sealand issues Cinderella stamps, currency, passports and titles of nobility and the principality really seems to have charted out an impressive model dominion with an advanced and diplomatically sufficient government, compared to other entities whose existence is mainly virtual. Given the tenor and timbre of politics and zealots which has always driven some to find a niche free from it all, I just hope that providing sanctuary does not create too much negative attention and bring the wrath of its larger neighbours down on this peaceable kingdom. PfRC would of course establish diplomatic-relations.

baumbastic

We did manage to find those magic sticks and make a little egg-tree in the corner. I learned that the branches are called Korkenweide, a type of flowering willow whose branches twist like a cork-screw, and that we didn’t need to wait until the florist had them back in stock since there’s one source growing in the yard.


I wouldn’t want to hurt our tree, however, which seems to be a very old and wiry speciment. German plant welfare laws are quite strict about pruning and when one is allowed to trim trees, so I am sure the florist managed it without damaging a living tree.




kein scherz or share-cropping

In general, I am an opponent of genetically modified foods, believing that too little is known about the subtle connections of ecology to be tinkering heavy-handedly with any component of it, but there has been one novel change under development for a few years that might prove to be a good idea, walking back some of the undesired consequences of ages of genetic advancement and alteration of what we eat that’s come to us at a more acceptable pace, through countless generations of husbandry and farming, which has brought us from weeds and feral animals to refinement and breeding in the crops that we have today.

Environ-mentalists and scientists have proposed (and there are on-going discussions as to the feasibility and ramifications) altering standard food crops, like maize, corn, sugar-cane and anything else that grows above ground, to conduce individual plants to take up a lasting residence, transforming from annuals to perennials, in order to mitigate the need for seasonal replanting and plowing. Tilling the soil, especially in a shallow and repeated fashion, releases a significant amount of carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere that would otherwise remain sequestered in the ground. It seems like a lot to ask of a dandelion to turn into a tulip, but it's no joke and apparently could be done.  I suppose there is not so much a profit-motivation to create fields that don't need minding.  Not having to replant would save labour as well, since field would just return by their own accord. The extensive system of roots established by permanent colonies of crops would also help to prevent erosion and might allow a monoculture environment to diversify, more tolerant to nature’s encroachment than traditional agriculture. Aside from orchards and vineyards, man seems to have picked high-maintenance sources of food and I wonder if that was a necessary choice or if farming can be rehabilitated with some more sophisticated and rapid evolution.