Wednesday, 25 July 2012

dannelsesreisen

Just checking in. Here are some the highlights—or rather anchor points—of our grand tour (Dannelsesreisen) through south-western Norway, with surely many spots in between. Stay tuned for more regular holiday dispatches on our travel blog. I do not quite imagine, however, a disembodied, stern- and Wagnerian-looking Henrik Ibsen presiding over our schedule, though surely such a spectre would be a very good guide.

Friday, 20 July 2012

fjord explorer

PfRC will be taking a bit of a sabbatical for the next few days for continuing adventures on the road—this time to Norway and back. Please stay tuned to our little travel blog, in the meantime, for holiday dispatches and postcards from the great northern reaches.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

no quarter or crowded house

Here’s a pessimistic thought: the same mob-mentality that fomented the same froth of bubbles that burst with the real estate market is likewise the authoritative voice on what constitutes a secure harbour, a safe-haven investment to berth one’s wealth and is kettling (purposefully or otherwise) to the same supposed shelters.

Not finding the proposition of holding fiat currency liable to fluctuation at interest rates that are not keeping pace with inflation and an uncertain stock market, people sought shelter in fundamental instruments that were lauded to retain the value that by all rights they should’ve: homes and real property. This trend, however, attached more takers than the market could honestly sustain and some trickery and greed kept up the enticement far too long. Though they have economic trifles of their own to address, bigger markets like the US and Germany are able for the time being to absorb the rush and act as a relatively secure harbor, but brokers are redirecting interest and channeling fear to a clutch of smaller economies to their acute displeasure. I don’t think a Switzerland, a Norway or an Iceland on the mends particularly like being dubbed a safe-bet as the influx of phantom money, held in trust but not benefitting the local marketplace, that they cannot accommodate and is proving ruinous for trade as it over-values their domestic currencies. Consequently, like with the housing sector, or anything else over-sold and amateurish, one seriously risks inflating so-called safe-havens and worse denigrating the commodity that is one’s home—maison, zu Hause, Huset, Húsið, and making it worth less through attribution.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

don’t let it rest on the president’s desk

Tumblr artist Meg Jannott has a new project, aiming to cast each of the forty-four US com-manders-in-chief as their own clever and sleek corporate brand. I really like the look she has developed so far, and it’s interesting to peruse historical memory and the epithets that these office-holders earned—especially as election-season in the States has reached such a pitch when reputations are reduced to barbs and snap-shots. As the collection grows, it is definitely worth a gander, along with the opportunity to discover some of her other works. What other subjects, series of incumbents deserve to be likewise branded—English monarchs, the some 265 Peter-Plus-One Popes of the Catholic church? Those would be fun and involved undertakings.

petrichor or köppen climate declassification

I wonder if back through the ages when continuous forests covered the continents whether there was less rain fall, water sequestered in living trees, and kept out of circulation. I wonder if the loss the Urwälder, the ancient forests, due to the steady advance of human settlement accounts for more flow than—say, the melting of glaciers. In any case, Germany and much of central Europe is being battered by waves of rain, veiled by constant drizzle and cloud that even the strong gales can’t push away.

Thunderstorms, I remember, being a rare occurrence not so long ago but now much more commonplace and terribly tornados, which seem to have no place in European myth or folklore, have recently routed parts of Poland and Germany. In the UK too, forecasters portend an usual sogginess to threaten the festivities and the whole summer seems called due to rainy weather. Meanwhile, the Aquarian imbalance is becoming more pronounced, compared to the States that, in the lee of the rain, is experiencing a severe and sustained drought, which is threatening food supplies. That distinctive earthy smell, as opposed to the ozone cut by lightning bolts, is called petrichor, after the ectoplasm coursing in the veins of the immortals—ichor and stone, and is caused by essential oils produced by some types of vegetation, in response to dry spells, being washed into the soil and absorbed (producing the scent). After successive rainy days, all the oil rinsed away and there is no more fresh, relieved smell but the first notes are one of chemical communication from parent plants to their offspring, research has found, telling them to wait on sprouting, so long as there is the runoff, until they will be sufficiently watered. How is this subtle yet convincing message garbled, I wonder, by artificial irrigation and shifting climates and might such cues also ultimately affect the weather?

Monday, 16 July 2012

and the java and me

Livejournalist Jane Noodlepudding shared an amazing find from the digital archives of the British Museum, a handbill extolling that new Coffee Drink, recently introduced to England by a Venetian merchant. Astonishingly, this advertisement dates from 1652 and the tone and language is by turns very dated and very contemporary and does an excellent job piquing the curiosity for an unfamiliar public.

The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink.
First publiquely made and sold in England, by Pasqua Rosée.
THE Grain or Berry called Coffee, groweth upon little Trees, only in the Deserts of Arabia.
It is brought from thence, and drunk generally throughout all the Grand Seigniors Dominions.
It is a simple innocent thing, composed into a drink, by being dryed in an Oven, and ground to Powder, and boiled up with Spring water, and about half a pint of it to be drunk, fasting an hour before and not Eating an hour after, and to be taken as hot as possibly can be endured; the which will never fetch the skin off the mouth, or raise any Blisters, by reason of that Heat.
The Turks drink at meals and other times, is usually Water, and their Dyet consists much of Fruit, the Crudities whereof are very much corrected by this Drink.
The quality of this Drink is cold and Dry; and though it be a Dryer, yet it neither heats, nor inflames more than hot Posset.
It forcloseth the Orifice of the Stomack, and fortifies the heat with- [...] its very good to help digestion, and therefore of great use to be [...] bout 3 or 4 a Clock afternoon, as well as in the morning.
[...] quickens the Spirits, and makes the Heart Lightsome.
[...]is good against sore Eys, and the better if you hold your Head o'er it, and take in the Steem that way.
It supresseth Fumes exceedingly, and therefore good against the Head-ach, and will very much stop any Defluxion of Rheumas, that distil from the Head upon the Stomach, and so prevent and help Consumptions and the Cough of the Lungs.
It is excellent to prevent and cure the Dropsy, Gout, and Scurvy.
It is known by experience to be better then any other Drying Drink for People in years, or Children that have any running humors upon them, as the Kings Evil. &c.
It is very good to prevent Mis-carryings in Child-bearing Women.
It is a most excellent Remedy against the Spleen, Hypocondriack Winds, or the like.
It will prevent Drowsiness, and make one fit for Busines, if one have occasion to Watch, and therefore you are not to drink of it after Supper, unless you intend to be watchful, for it will hinder sleep for 3 or 4 hours.
It is observed that in Turkey, where this is generally drunk, that they are not troubled with the Stone, Gout, Dropsie, or Scurvy, and that their Skins are exceeding cleer and white.
It is neither Laxative nor Restringent.

Made and Sold in St. Michaels Alley in Cornhill, by Pasqua Rosee, at the Signe of his own Head.

spectral analysis

It is rather hard to imagine any reasonable person thinking that the cadet line of the American Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, is doing anything laudable or advisable, excepting perhaps the airlines themselves, since all the complaints and furor directed towards the TSA detract from their own faults and price-gouging—them and maybe the research firms that would have liked to have peddled this sort equipment to dismantled NASA. Still, I find it incredible after effectively delivering the expectation that one will be subjected to bad touches and a potentially dangerous yet ineffective dose of radiation that virtually strips ones clothes—not to mention being subjugated to all sorts of ridicule—all in the name of security theatre and the suspension of disbelief, the brain-trust of the organization thinks it advisable pursuing the opportunity to blast, indiscriminately, passengers with an ion cannon to answer long abiding mysteries, like the general mood and stress level of the average frequent and infrequent flier. Surely scanning crowds and queues for the chemical detritus that is the manifestation of how much they’re cowed and frustrated will yield some false positives, despite any number of field-tests for fine-tuning that probably won’t stop with the airport terminal. Anyway, this sales pitch rings hollow, like the bulk of theatrics and schemes that the government buys into.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

aughts and überlieferte

A few months ago, H found a gorgeous hard-bound programme documenting and profiling the Oberammergau Passion Play of 1910, and later I spied a copy of the booklet from the 1922 performance. The tradition of staging an extravagant passion play that everyone in the community takes part in dates back to 1633, when blighted by plague and failing crops, village elders pledged to commit to such a spectacle once a decade, should the villagers be spared. That tradition has continued, this notable delays, ever since—most recently in 2010. The two programmes may have been printed as keepsakes for different audiences and it really does not matter about the poshness of the leaflets, though the bound edition with photographs and illustrations is very different from the other, text only on whitey-brown paper—just that the show does go on, but after looking at the two together and wondering about the twelve year span, it was fascinating to compare the decades of each performance and the changing times. The 1900s saw much upheaval with the last days of colonization—with Cuba and the Philippines becoming independent from the US, the home-rule moves of Ireland and Norway, assassinations and conflicts, the discovery of radiation, the pioneering of powered, and the first time practical availability of products like automobiles, cameras, typewriters, gramophones and recorded music. The next presentation came, postponed due to the end of the war and unsteady peace that followed, with a very much transformed backdrop—not played to an audience subject to the German Empire but rather before a new Republic. Stemming from the outbreak of war that dissolved most monarchies and empires, the aftermath hosted revolutions in Russia and China and the pandemic outbreak of the Spanish Flu that illustrated for the first time how the deployment and displacement of millions can spread disease. Aside from infernal engines and motion pictures, however, there was not the social engineering that occurred previously with the dissemination of the way people moved and communicated. It is as if, unable to fully digest what mobility and voice (in the form of suffrage too) for the public would mean, the dynasties themselves revolted terribly, and the season’s run for the Passion Play was witness to the whole awful mutiny being set in motion again. One can also see the transition from an Art Nouveau to an Art Déco style with the cover designs. I wonder if there are other such time-capsules, intersections between promise and custom and contemporary influences (not quite the same as ephemera nor like the regular business of historians either), and how such treasures are researched and held in regard.

champagne socialism or better than an poke in the eye with a sharp stick

There is no real equivalent to the municipal banking establishments found in Germany elsewhere: these foundations operate like credit unions locally, under the stewardship of and partly owned by the city or country, but with a national presence and reciprocation and profits that the union realizes is returned to the host community in the form of financial support for charitable causes and civic institutions. In stark contrast to private banks that are at odds with governments and central banks over policy and how to best smear the economy with credit to sustain market activity, the Sparkassen Verband is rather flush with money right now and not too parsimonious about lending. People, I think, feel good about parking their money there and the competition of this state-backed entity also probably serves to keep private banks in check as well, since in Germany there seems to be less antagonism between the government and wholly private lenders and investors and more discipline.
Various (temporary) touts and lures are employed by the private banks to attract customers with offers of a better return with interest and more free services—which is the mark of a healthy and responsible rivalry, and there’s no subtle message of guilt transmitted nor desperate attacks of a government-supported cartel and unfairness exchanged between the two systems. Animosity, at least, is not in the open.  Neither one is totally beyond reproach or perfect, but both serve to keep the other in check. Aside from charity and public projects, a small percentage of the earnings go back into the consortium for advertising and for renovations for their franchise. My local branch celebrated its grand-opening after redoing their interior to include fully automated services and a posh entryway like the lobby of a theatre, giving out bottles of champagne (Sekt) to everyone that came by. I can’t imagine getting more than a calendar or maybe a toaster from any private institution and only for opening a new account—that is, save the grief, uncertainty and questionable loyalty which are offered freely.

Friday, 13 July 2012

mendeleev or unnilversum

For inquiring minds, the type face that closely approximates the style featured bright and bold on academic posters of the periodic table is the Univers family (not in the standard quiver of fonts but downloaded for free here). Of course, there’s no universal standards for the heraldry of such a chart, but such achieving such a look, with a little nostalgia for the high school science classroom and cleanly monolithic, I think is a fitting way to display the octaves of the Elements—sort of like musical notation itself. The strangeness of particles that underlies the noble appearance of the Atom have so far defied such an immediate and tidy composition, like being ordered according to periods whose gaps were realized, filled in, and known before the missing elements were even discovered. A framework of theories were affirmed, stepwise, with the zoo of subatomic entities and mannerisms that were also predicted and discovered one by one—suggesting that something a bit unwieldy may yet also be described or describable in human understanding. Maybe the whole range of fonts and type-setting displays a certain periodicity as well but there is always space for variation and to wedge style between style.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

subvertisement

Pop- and graffiti artist Ron English has released a brilliant collection of works, Stickable Art Offenses, which features some of his impressive and provoking static displays on consumerism and society and pages and pages of iconic and ironic stickers that one can use to anchor an already statement punctuated environment.

cactus is our friend, he will point out the way

The prickly pear or paddle cactus has sprouted dozens of hands and continues to grow. With each new bud, I speculate whether it is a fig blooming or another new appendage, and the cactus spreads. The scientific name for the genus is Opuntia, after the Greek settlement of the Locrian tribe. The Homeric figure of Patroclus was from this region and forty black ships assailed Troy from here under the leadership of Ajax. This cactus is a new world species, from Mexico, but does thrive in the Mediterranean as well. I don’t see the connection between our brave little cactus and the Iliad but other new world oddities, like the strange Echidna of Australia, after the mother of all monsters in Hesiod’s Theogony, are given fanciful old world designations, as well as wholly newly discovered worlds. According to some traditions, though, one of the hundred-handed giants, the Hekatonkheires (the Centimani in Latin), lived in the surrounding region of Euboea, where the Locri were located, as challenger for Poseidon for control of the Aegean, the monster having invented the warship to further his claim by proxy. I could imagine the resemblance there and an inventive etymology.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

registratrix or public-record

While the rest of Europe and in particular the people of Germany and Italy were enthralled by the football match between these two titans for a place in the finals, it seems there was some conscientious division of focus in the quiet and abandoned halls of the lower house (the Bundestag) of parliament: with no debate or discussion, members present passed a bill that included reforms to the municipal registration process (declaring one’s residence, registering a vehicle, family-status, background, religion, etc.) allowing local authorities, the Rathaus, financial offices, immigration and naturalization officials, to sell information to presumably marketers without the knowledge or permission of the individuals in the registry. As soon as this shady vote came to light, it has been roundly disowned and disavowed by the government and the media, pledging that the changes will never even make it to the upper house of parliament (the Bundesrat). Though perhaps such intelligence and demographic-information could be easily gleaned from other, public sources (without remanding anything to the village treasurer), such a proposal deserves outrage and further scrutiny. News and legislation does not stay buried forever and I would hope that the reforms’ advocates would realize that this was bound to surface and upset a lot of people, even if the fatal-flaw of the democratic-process is such to guarantee suffrage for all and brings all sorts of nonsense to the table.
 It is not so much, however, the worlds’-dumbest-criminals aspect of trying to use the gladiator-games as a cover that is revolting, but rather the complete disdain they demonstrated for their constituencies. Surely someone at some point put them in office, as a position of trust to represent and protect public interests—and no paying demographer will be willing to offer up so much money as to fund all community works, if that was their reasoning, even if it was theirs to give away. Also, as I understand it, this dispute reform is only one part of a larger initiative to annex some registration responsibilities from the Länder and centralize it within the federal (Bundes) government, so localities might see no revenue from such scheme. People not only have a right to be forgot and to decline but also should have control and oversight in how their vital data is traded. In an environment where the populace is constantly mobilized against the whack-a-mole series of assaults on internet freedoms, privacy rights and blanched at surveillance for whatever purpose, it is quite a dissonance to imagine the government to profit from such measures.

Monday, 9 July 2012

ingénue and konkurrenz

The Iron Curtain created some interesting parallels among products and services, like the Soviet answers to the Concorde and the NASA Space Shuttle, which unfortunately was never launched due to the end of the Cold War and break-up of the Soviet Union. In divided Germany, I think the pressure to provide consumers with market analogues was especially piquant. There are food and cleaning products that still demand a high level of distinction and brand-loyalty, though the closed economies that fostered their separate identities has not existed in more than two decades. Automobiles were too a cultural aspect governed by scarcity over abundance, embarrassment of choices and ingenuity. Having loved and cared for an old Volkswagen T3, it was with more insight and respect that I could meet again its DDR counterpart: from 1961 until 1991, Barkas was the sole manufacturer of service trucks, vans and minibuses. Like its western equivalent and forebearers, these vehicles came in a huge array of different models, tailored for public and private use, as postal trucks and garbage kips and other public utilities and even, I understand, as roving paddy-wagons by the Stasi when on the prowl for thought-criminals (but I think that the fleet and compliment of B-1000s was mostly associated with caravaning and public-works), and with an equally robust and technically accessible engine. The artefacts of isolation are interesting things and the convergent determination and engineering are impressive.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

world of wheels

For a weekend in July, hundreds of classic cars descend on the medieval German Altstadt of Fladungen, proud owners transforming the cobble stone streets and narrow alleyways into another kind of museum. We always have a lot of fun seeing the spectacle, the cars lining the avenues and square and the parade of entrants. There were several luxury and sports models, of course, and incredible American road-ships on display, but I’ve always thought that the bubble cars (Rollermobil) are especially endearing. The Goggomobil from the Dingolfing, in Lower Bavaria by Passau, manu-facturer Hans Glas and the BMW Isetta were competing variations on the same concept of tininess and economy, made from about the same span of time from 1954 to the early 1960s. The Goggomobil had an actual limousine model and could accommodate a driver and three passengers, while the three-wheeled Isetta’s front cockpit hatch opened up for two.
Cumulatively there was certainly a lot of mechanical talent and countless hours devoted to maintenance and restoration on show, and it’s interesting that a lot of these and similar micro-mini cars have survived in good condition because, due to the engine size—around 13 horsepower only, drivers only needed a moped-class license to operate them, significantly cheaper and easier to obtain than one for a full-sized automobile. I think such a little car would be perfect for taking a spin around the block, and I can see these creative and expressive trends returning with independent and flexible designs for electric mobility.

master of none or doctor, lawyer, indian chief

The venerable librarian and antiquarian at BibliOdyssey shares her latest exquisite discovery with the Fleet Street publication in the year 1900 of the children’s book on various callings Jack of All Trades, scathingly rhymed and illustrated with clever out-set pictures by JJ Bell and C Robinson. Many of the unique vignettes are cautionary-tales, like this verse for creative minds:

There are two kinds of Artists,
And each has got an aim: The one he paints for pennies,
The other—does the same.

I wonder what these collaborators could say about employment nowadays, for those off the payroll at least, like blogger, internet entrepreneur, day-trader or copyright lawyer.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

einschätzung or fine-print

In response to the intersecting frustrations over EU labeling requirements (industry resistance to larger, legible type and the mandate to list ingredients on many products in all the languages of Europe) and the slowness of reform and the slow creep of chemical short-cuts to the business of processed foods (like aromas as understudies for real and natural content and various concoctions which sound more harmless and anodyne in German as opposed to Latinate and sciency English equivalents—i.e., Farbstoß rather than naphthalenesulfonic acid hydroxy disodium salt, otherwise Red Dye Number 40), one German grocery franchise has responded since a few months back by providing customers with magnifying glasses to better scrutinize the contents of what they are buying. While I have never actually seen these installations being utilized, I do applaud the company and think by putting them on every single aisle (and this chain does not exactly have the reputation of providing the most healthful, organic—Bio selection), cues shoppers to be more cognizant of what’s going into their food and in turn what’s going into their bodies.

enthüllen

When we last left our hero, he was holed-up at the Ecuadorian foreign mission in London, protesting extradition to Sweden to face charges, since the Swedes might be pressured to render him to the US for summary judgment.

Still clinging to sanctuary, however, the Wikileaks team has managed to release its latest cache of some two-and-a-half million electronic corres-pondences between Syrian government officials and industrialists and Western ministries. I would not suggest that this enterprise is a motivated plea for leniency from America’s vindictive prosecution and the court of public opinion, since to disentangle the interests and actions of all parties, some probably very embarrassing revelations will come to light—for the American government and business interests too, showing once the consortium of journalists digest the connections and the raw details, that what diplomacy professes is something quite different from what’s hiding behind sanctions, truces and rebellion.

Friday, 6 July 2012

speciments



instructions to applicant

What an obscure thing to commit to paper, and what a bizarre punishment for those born under the sign of 87. I wonder what old legacy programming subroutine is triggered with this magic number. It’s like the legal fictions, which vary greatly by jurisdiction, for people born on a 29 February, which I imagine could get people in quite a bind and might only be remedied by a telefax addressed to somewhere on some other time continuum. These systems, which justify more than a few jobs by continuing to refuse to communicate with one another and require a translator and arbitrator, are not the most navigable and produce as much red-tape as the bureaus and agencies that the sustain. I wonder, though, if anyone has bothered to compile the surprising snatches of poetry in unappreciated bureaucratic boilerplate. Some passages are untouchable and have survived updates and revisions to regulations, like one of my favourite sections that includes “notorious misconduct off-duty—with regard to off-duty conduct, all employees have an obligation to conduct themselves so that no disgrace or disrepute will be visited on the Department of the Army” as a primary cause for dismissal—very non-committal and open-ended and probably a guildline that would defy being stated any other way.

umbrage or full name

In addition to being the engine and regulator of calendars and holidays in many traditions, the waxing and waning of the Moon to its gleaming and unshadowed visage is also named as the year makes its transit through the seasons. It seems a bit tautological as the word for month in many languages is derived from the word for Moon, but with the asynchronicity of the Sun and our calendar systems (since some months can have an extra full phase, a Blue Moon, or be absent a full moon altogether), that tidal pull I think acts as a correcting force, bring our sense of time back in line and turned from schedules and agendas. It’s nice to reflect on the ruling Moon, governing its portion of the year, and what lyrical names and moods, mostly from mixed Native American traditions though I would be interested to see more on what other folk-practises and conventions there are, we give it.

Winter Solstice
January Old Moon, Yule Moon, Ice Moon
February Storm Moon, Hunger Moon
March Lenten Moon, Crow Moon

Vernal Equinox
April Pink Moon, Fish Moon
May Flower Moon, Hare Moon
June Honey Moon, Hot Moon

Summer Solstice
July Hay Moon, Thunder Moon
August Dog Moon, Lightening Moon
September Harvest Moon, Wine Moon

Autumn Equinox
October Travelers’ Moon
November Hunters’ Moon
December Oak Moon, Frost Moon

Thursday, 5 July 2012

adi, adieu, arrivederci, adios acta

After months of protests over intransparency and secret diplomacy, back room dealings and public outcry, the outcome of 4 July’s parliamentary vote in Strasbourg was somewhat of a foregone conclusion. The vote, however, was a decisive stance and declaration of independence from American dictates, coming in the form of rejection of the ACTA treaty and choosing freedom over copyfight. A clear majority of parliamentarians from all political persuasions did come together to deflect this proposal, ostensibly to combat international counterfeiting of real and virtual commodities and enshrine intellectual rights, but there was a minority of proponents and many abstainers.
I am sure that the watchdog group, European Corporate Observatory, could let you know how your representative voted and if there might be industry connections influencing that decision. In the last minutes before the ballot, there were some desperate, sophistical arguments that tried to defend the opaqueness of the negotiations, saying that the deal was about keeping fabulous-fakes out of the market and not about codifying the ability of government censorship, though China and Indian were not signatories. (That argument is a bit taxing, I think, because those countries are not dens of piracy and inequity and do export some counterfeit goods because they also generate the majority of the world’s non-counterfeit goods as well.) One supporter of ACTA compared an agreement without China and Indian to the good done with the imperfect and not universal Kyoto Protocols, which is without Chinese, Indian and American support, and that we still ought to try something. The comment was weak, but it did make me think that before even entertaining furthering American hegemony and legal frameworks, the EU and others ought to be able to demand that the US abide by the environmental treaty, recognize the permanent tribunal in the Hague, pay its membership dues to the United Nations, etc. Such a quid pro quo seems fair and might convince the US to introduce compacts not overly swayed by the telecommunications and entertainment industries—especially as the move by Europe is inviting the spectre of retribution in trade and tariffs on the part of American businesses. Those threats, however, must have rung empty for the rejection to be so resolute.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

aperitif or alcohol-spectrum

Championing a national drink generally amounts to the exclusion of other equally distinct and fine products, like wines and other spirits, however, there are usually interesting connections and a story behind how one liquor, rather than another, came to be identified with one country and region. Greek ouzo and Italian grappa and sambuca are different branches, essentially, of the distillation experiments undertaken by monks on Mount Athos in the 1300s, although the idea of fermenting an elixir, brandy out of the leftovers of wine-making has far more ancient roots and traditions.
The anise-flavoured spirits themselves gained broader popularity and became firmly established in the early 1900s, after the ban on Swiss Absinthe, whose bad reputation was mostly undeserved but left a gaping opportunity for other competitors.


plum-pudding or deus ex machina

Scientists have a dislike for the popular designation for the theorized Higgs boson. God particle (Gottesteilchen) sounds way too hyperbolic but the name stuck after a physicist and science journalist penned a lengthy and publically accessible book about the elusive Higgs boson and the non-scientist editor had to find a good, catchy title for his work. The authors and fellow researchers exclaimed several times throughout the manuscript why can’t we find that goddamned (gottverdammt) particle and the editor settled on entitling the 1993 book The God Particle.
Should subsequent findings hold up, it of course would not be an insignificant discovery, reaffirming the model that most physicists believe describes the properties and relations among the menagerie of sub-atomic particles. Most quarks and other exotic constituents were undiscovered, theoretical entities that were initially unproven but were hypothesized and whose existence was necessary so that the mobile construction of their model hung together. One by one, other particles revealed themselves and the Higgs boson was among the last stubborn hold-outs. That the microcosm functions in an intelligible and predictable way certainly lends support to human comprehension, and though maybe not so grandiose and omnipotent as its nick-name (Spitzname) suggests, the experimentation and study does not just validate theory—the role of the Higgs boson, as described by the Standard Model, accounts for why matter has mass, in the observable way things fall to the floor and galaxies hand together as an inherent quality, universal and unaffected by how much energy one puts into or takes away from a system. Should we manage to isolate (I am cautiously excited, just remembering the popular media reports about superluminal particles detected in another CERN experiment that were discredited) such a force-bearer, I am not sure what we could do with it—before the electron was identified experimentally as a part of the atom in 1897, there was certainly electricity that could be harnessed and exploited. Maybe no one hailed this discovery at the time. I doubt, however, there would have been the advances in electronics without understanding the mechanics of the electron.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

today’s episode brought to you by the letters GOOG

My thanks to all regular and chance visitors for their continued patronage. PfRC was not meant to generate traffic or revenue, rather just something for fun, but I was very excited nonetheless to get a check from Google’s AdSense programme. They really do pay, and it was thrilling to hold it in my hot little hand. What fills in the white spaces is a strangely thoughtful and personalized, though not prying and intrusive, process, and if one’s sponsors are somewhat lackluster then one only has oneself (and browsing habits) to blame. Some things defy commercialization, however.

statecraft

While I do not believe that German resistance to relaxing reform-measures or pooling debt was anything less than genuine and negotiations were not weighted by some calculated double-bluff, governments and eurocrats gained a way forward without and reached a deal precisely by being uncompromising. Merkel is a talented and clever individual, and I bet once the summit was over and everyone could relax their game-faces, she thought “wait a minute, did you see what I just did there?” Germany entered the conference firm on the position of not altering the stability and rescue mechanisms of the Fiskalpakt.
Eventually, however, Merkel conceded to allow troubled banks direct access to the funds (as Italy and Spain wanted), bypassing the rule that sovereign governments should only have these drawing-rights, which could be used, if they saw fit, to provide their banks with capital. With this allowance, however, Germany mandated the creation of an office to oversee the deportment of beneficiary financial institutions. This stipulation in turn addressed a point of inflexibility on the part of France. Without agreeing explicitly to a solidarity that is domestically unpopular, France expressed a willingness to not surrender national sovereignty to an EU governing board but rather the management of its banks. The agency charged with monitoring the banks is not based alongside the institutions in Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg but rather incorporated into the EU’s Central Banking Authority, located in Frankfurt.

a fifth of beethoven

The music-royalties clearinghouse of Germany has managed a hearty and hale business since 1902, monopolizing the regulation of performance-rights and artists’ entitlements for music played to German audience. Of course, GEMA (die Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte—the Society for Musical Performance and Mechanical Reproduction) has evolved with the entertainment industry and is a take-down force to be reckoned with. Since the apparent failure of ACTA and similar treaties that the group championed, it has however turned to more traditional staples of the listening tax and now has expanded its reach over discotheques, having made arrangements to levy anywhere from a ten to six-hundred percent fee for music played on the dance floor, with a non-negotiable tithe of ten percent on the door-charge.
Without question, musicians deserve credit and acknow-ledgement for their work, but following strict no smoking regulations that has hurt the business of bars, restaurants, clubs and cafes, these new demands of the studio-system seem like an all-out assault on the institution of the public-house. GEMA’s poor-mouthing probably does not translate directly to more income for performers, though they argue that discos and disc-jockeys are making an absolute killing, nightly, at the expense of starving-artists. In order to make up for the new, higher royalty payments (unless venues choose to skirt the payments by having DJs mix clip-length sampler medleys only), clubs will have to charge higher entrance prices and more for drinks. These developments suggest a scavenging, shadow economy—no rewards for talent but rather for baited membership. Such cost and bother might be enough to bring back live-music and reinvention.

Monday, 2 July 2012

little switzerland or like water for chocolate

Over the weekend, H and I took a very scenic tour of the region known as the Fränkishe Schweiz (Little Switzerland, as the Americans call it) and stopped to marvel at Burg Pottenstein, cleaving to a cliff-face with a narrow ribbon of a path spanning the continuous karst outcroppings the portion up the landscape. As with a dozen other vantage points nearby, the castle commands an impressive vista, both from a distance and looking outward from its towers and turrets. For a year or so, this fortress, vassal to the Diocese of Bamberg, was also home to St. Elizabeth of Hungary (Hl. Elizabeth von Thüringen) while essentially under house-arrest by inquisitor and spiritual-advisor Konrad from Marburg. Married and tragically widowed at a young age, Elizabeth promised her husband that she would never remarry and devoted her life to charitable works. Her politically-engaged family, however, were not pleased with her choice, since at the apex of a noble-line, discounting a second-marriage in high royal circles left them with little chance for advancement.
The family, eying potential suitors—including the Emperor, solicited the confessor’s help to dissuade her from a life dedicated to helping the poor. Elizabeth was abducted and treated badly, taken away from the hospital she founded in Marburg and her chaste existence at the Wartburg by Eisenach, and held at Pottenstein. While secreting bread and valuables for the poor, she was caught but miraculously her bundle transformed into a bunch of roses—which was probably the ideal expression of noblesse oblige for Elizabeth’s conniving family, who’d fawn over that sort of gallant gesture, sort of like “…then, let them eat cake” or the unhelpful exploits of Monty Python’s Dennis Moore, who robbed from the rich and gave the poor lupins. Threatening to cut off her nose, eventually her advisor and family released Elizabeth, who only had a few months to work to reestablish her charities. Her support for the fledging Franciscan Order and ongoing intervention for the destitute earned her sainthood and reverence in her native Hungary and adoptive Germany.