Monday, 30 September 2013

speakeasy or yes, minister

For some time there has been a continual soap-opera cycling in the hallowed halls of the US government, yet it is hardly the stuff of dramaturgy without great license and a keen imagination, being that the dialogue outside of what the public is subjected to and the secretive pow-wows whose proceedings are all to easy to envision, is the sum total of the exchange. The two parties do not engage one another off-line, as big as the growing disconnect between civilian and military leaders. That is not to say that backroom, unregulated deals are preferable—enough of those end up codified without the watch-dog of checks and balances or the consent of the public that the elected legislature is supposed to represent, but at least, without too much theatre or romanticism, there was in the past the water-cooler, the break-room or social-dues that saw senators and congressmen, regardless of political ilk, spending time together at private haunts, after hours.
This club culture is undone by hasty retreats to their constituencies whenever recess is called, which no matter how short can find repre- sentatives home and back again in no time and the conscience decision not to filter one's public and private lives. Thinking of two congressmen casually finding commonalities by forgetting differences and spending a spare moment together seems unfortunately like a laughable prospect nowadays, for fear one might question their party loyalties. I couldn't say whether any great compromised was ever reached in Congress by a dining-out but it's a fact that only keeping company that's like-minded is quite sufficient for justifying one's own views—or rather the unshakable views that one is expected to have.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

stockholm syndrome

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Sweden just released a comprehensive report on global-warming that is unfortunately is being down-played as more alarmist palaver, but is nothing to scoff at or ignore.
Even though the multidisciplinary study that took several years to comply and analyze has few new startling revelations (trashing ecology is startling and shameful enough) and merely is another bleak assessment in the same traditional, it does serve to confirm our worst fears. In that there is nothing new in it, however—too, the skeptics and the procrastinators remain inured and unconvinced, though their contention with this fact-finding mission defies unity and leaves little open for objection. There is no one country or political persuasion that presents a the ultimate roadblock or challenge to policy but rather commitment to halting and healing the climate is a matter of individual priorities and choice, though national fronts and dogmatists can certainly be a source of opportunities and threats. Disparagingly, platforms—whether critical or regaled with the best of intentions, tend, I think the mutilate urgency, and rather than considering that the house is on fire, and still pits one group, bundled with all sorts of tangential priorities against another, rather than accepting a cold and disquieting fact.

hunting of the snark

From antiquity through the Renaissance, most productions and publications were content to rely on the intellect of the audiences to discern satire and irony, but with the decentralisation of governments and the displacement of the Lingua franca of the Renaissance, which saw the rise, through printing of native languages, many authors feared that their sense might be lost, especially in translation. Hence, many thinkers attempted to independently espouse a new series of punctuation marks over the years to denote something meant to be ironic or tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes variations on the exclamation mark were employed or an opening and closing quote with a glyph like the the Greek letter psy (ฮจ), maybe in deference to the eirรดn, a stock character of Ancient Greek comedies who through understatement and sometimes self-depreciation, usually triumphed over the braggarts in the end. Such flags were thought to be important, especially in dicey diplomatic situations, were it became important to maer distinctions between what was spoken ex cathedra and what was the modest proposals of uncredentialed journalists and opiners.
The perennial failure of this sort of mark-up language—though maybe its time have come with shouts and murmurs and snarky comments regularly framed by inventive interjections, sort of reminds me of the struggle to introduce the metric system to the hold-outs, which always seems to fail as well but for interesting reasons and in spectacular ways, is just one of several typographical adventures explored in the new work, Shady Characters: the Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and other Typographical Marks, by Keith Houston, showing that the stories behind those oddities that never managed to catch on are as fascinating and perhaps as influential as those that did endure—or linger in ways much changed from their original purpose.

Friday, 27 September 2013

aca, ada, abracabra

It is the Anti-Deficiency Act of 1882, as amended, that puts the American government in the precarious situation of dismissing some one-third, deemed non-essential—which has the interesting ring of the imagination of Douglas Adams (not a statesman)—of its workforce without compensation. The government will still discharge its duty to protect, duty to warn with a skeleton crew, who themselves will not see their salary until such time as Congress has set a budget, being legally bound against the incursion of further debts that it cannot vouch for. The last time a full government shut-down happened, notwithstanding many intermediate close-calls and political staring-contests, was in the winter of 1995 and 1996 and I remember being quite frustrated that the National Galleries were closed to visitors and I came expressly to see a special Rembrandt exhibit.
I was content, however, at the time with making snow-angels on the Capitol. There were dread inconveniences (a weak word) to public services and those employees embargoed, and this time we can only project the impact of disrupting the paper-push of bureaucracy the hardship of individuals just now starting to recover from the last rounds of an administrative-, as opposed to an emergency-, furlough, though the predictions of doom and despair did not come to fruition at-large and the output of the federal government is largely invisible and looks expendable until one is personally affected by the loss of a cog or two. Though the causes reach back much further and the US government has expanded into something unwieldy and self-serving—surely to be redressed by follow-on show-downs like the looming matter of America's debt burden that will make this intransigence seem like theatre, the major bone of contention that is keeping the legislative branch staunchly divided is over another Act, the Affordable Care Act (a new idea only to America, though, with most of the rest of the world having put universal health-coverage in place long ago), and not in costs, immediate nor long-term, but rather in perception and principle. The devil's advocate seems to keep company with a business-lobby not renowned for its fair labour-practices to begin with, and considering that all of the really awful and onerous laws that the US has implemented and unleashed upon the rest of the world (lately, at least, if not always) have been done so at the beck-and-call of this same cartel, perhaps it would be wise to consider careful what these groups through inflexible fear-mongering might be trying to un-write.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

truncation or mot-valise

In German common-parlance, there's a whole array of pet-names, abbreviations, whose practice does not seem to have an analogue in other languages—outside of jargon, where trying to make acronyms pronounceable reigns, portmanteaux or celebrity nicknames.
To name a few: there is Abo for Abonnement, a French borrowing for subscription, Azubi for Auszubildener, an apprentice, the plural Elis for the ever dual Eltern for parents, Deo for deodorant, Bio for biological or organic, and earlier Ami for Americans and Stasi for Staatssicherheitsdienst. I was exposed to a new example recently—or so I thought. Miliz, it turns out, is the full and proper term for militants or a militia. I recall once watching sail boats out on the bay with some friends when a stranger asked if he could borrow our binocs. Of course, I obliged but wondered ever since where by what leave he got dropping the rest of the word.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

bad soden am taunus

In the afternoon, I visited the nearby town of Bad Soden am Taunus. Well outfitted and known for its thermal springs since Roman times, today it is a quiet bedroom community for neighbouring metropolis of Frankfurt am Main but there was quite a bit to see and to test.  Dozens of beautiful villas, pensions for guests taking the waters, surrounded the town's core and the ensemble of stately structures like this spa with outdoor theatre and other buildings divided among three adjacent parks. To cater to an impressive guest list—some of whom are depicted on this unique fountain, also a thermal well, with poseable metal statues with kung-fu grip, but possibly not Otto Frank, Anne Frank's father who worked there before taking his family to the Netherlands or the fictional Kitty who was Anna Karenina's niece who sought a cure here (as Tolstoy did)--the town was the first to have electric street lamps and other advanced infrastructure in the then Duchy of Nassau.

There was a trail that bounced from fountain to fountain and I had a drink at a few: the warm water tasted strongly of sulphur and salty and each well had a protocol, reading like the labels on medicine about its healthful benefits, although all recommended only small amounts as there is quite a heavy concentration of iron-oxides dissolved in the source. A popular, almost with cult status, lozenge is manufactured with this special water. There was also a nice surprise with a happy, colourful apartment block designed by renowned Austrian architect Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser.
The flats, which also host a parking garage where I would have tried to park had I known, are just outside of the Quellepark and are pictured in the background, behind the gazebo sheltered what is designated as Fountain Number One, the Solbrunnen with the town's neoclassic personification and mascot, Sodenia.  I am learning there are quite a few more things to discover and we will definitely be returning to this area.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

appeasement, rapprochement

Though not exactly compelled to resign their posts—excepting by expectation and precedent, five senior ministers of the German cabinet, belonging to the junior, business-orientated coalition party, fell on their swords and took a hiatus from politics in a ballot that oversaw the ouster of the FDP (Freie Demokratik Partei) and overwhelming support for the incumbent—but not necessarily the status quo also.

Germany's leader is the sole-survivor of the financial crisis that overthrew all the other large-holder governments of Europe, and though the election results results suggest a clear victory for conservative policies (demonstrating those fickle hissy-fits of campaigning, like assuaged fears for privacy) and tough-love for malingerers that may not be exactly the case.  The regime of the CSU/CDU (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern/Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) have not merely eliminated a gad-fly to cater to in the FDP, which was the force majeure behind the notion that Greece should be exiled from the monetary union, but likely gained another “pest” in the Green Party, the Left and the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) to check direction and present challenges that could transform into mutual and far-reaching opportunities.

Monday, 23 September 2013

savage garden

These flowers with up-turned petals that hide their plant-business below are a variety of Alpen-glรถckchen (Soldanella, little coins in Latin but I guess in English, they're known as snowbells) remind me of the piranha plants of Super Mario Brothers. They unfortunately are rather delicate and fussy things and tend not to do well in captivity. Another long-term inmate is blooming upside-down, whose made of sturdier stuff, more adapted to neglect and smothering, with an ugly little flower unfolding. This Zanzibar Gem (Zamioculcas zamiifolia—also called the ZZ Plant, a Zamie or eine Glรผcksfeder) or most-fittingly the Eternity Plant.
Though not a tuber, like a potato or a tulip, it forms bulbous reservoirs of water at its base that can (within reason) be either stored for drier times or squished, transmuted into leaf-form in response to the environment—or the watering-can. H had had one for years that I fawned over and over-watered but I am glad we have an understudy doing well. Not that I mind these untraditional flowers one bit, but I had the notion that house-plants that require a certain maturity before blooming, unlike the weird probing cactus, the baobab trees and the giant schefflera that has been proudly sprouting these little giraffe horns every year since would only do it once and take a rest from such activities.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

photo-bomb or underwater

In the proud tradition of Cake Wrecks, which received a restraining order probably like this tumble-blog to cease and desist for poking fun at laziness and sloppiness, there is a fascinating collect of horrendous real estate photographs. Seeing these choice examples, some of which are not too far away from unenticing and rather inexplicable advertisements that we've encountered ourselves.
These disasters, with funny commentary included, do not just come from severely distressed markets or places with such a housing-storage that the mere whisper would draw interest but rather from contributors and readers of classifieds all over the world, and it makes me wonder if the down-swing in the housing-market isn't also due too bad presentation. There were too many awful and awkward pictures to list, causing genuine curiosity about what was hoped to convey by framing these images, and one should browse through the gallery in order to check the reputation of your scout and agent.

hanging gardens

Though with certainly no mad intent to improve upon or replace nature on the sizable green reserves of one of the world's last few city-states, Singapore has erected these giant supertrees in a park as a breathtaking backdrop with a bridge and paths for tourists a hundred meters above the natural canopy for the surrounding skyscrapers. These other-worldly artificial trees do not only have a photovoltaic array to help power the nearby office buildings but also provide a protective cage for fostering vines, orchids, and other rare creeping plants in a trellis that makes a sort of bundle of living cables. Be sure to check out the link for a gallery of amazing pictures of the supertrees and the Flower Dome of Singapore.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

raubgold or double-quick time

After studying a cipher subtly scribbled on a music score, a Dutch film-maker and musician is convinced that the lost cashe of Nazi treasure is buried somewhere under the town of Mittenwald, in the Isar valley and near Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Austrian border—Der Spiegel International reports. Although the treasure-hunter's focus is not exactly the stuff of the Da Vinci Code, the patriotic march having not been composed as a vehicle for hiding in plain sight and transmitting secrets, but rather a collection of documents thought to be from the personal secretary of Adolf Hitler (though a chain-of-custody has not been established with certainty), which includes a copy of the sheet-music foot-noted that supposedly point to the exact location of the hidden, legendary Alpine treasure-trove. Preliminary excavations are underway in Mittenwald and although nothing might be unearthed, the notion has a lot of people intrigued.

Friday, 20 September 2013

playable character or level-boss

Learning about the passing away of visionary and creative genius Hiroshi Yamauchi who took the Japanese traditional board- and card-game company Nintendo under his leadership for more than fifty years, producing a multitude of arcade games and then gaming consoles for home use, I was reminded about this poster of spiraling constellations that chart all the games produced during the company's most prolific period from Pop Chart Labs.
 With such a memorable cast of characters, studying the accompanying manuals, legends and bestiaries were almost as engrossing as playing the games itself. Almost. While its competitors sought to deliver flashier graphics and greater computing power, Nintendo endured by remaining true to family of avatars—many the inventions of designer Shigeru Miyamoto, another pioneer Yamauchi encouraged, like Zelda and the Brothers Mario, that frankly made the others look like road-kill, and challenging environments, with innovative interfaces from the gun for Duck Hunt, R.O.B. the little robot challenger, a microphone in the Japanese version that could be used to shout down certain enemies, the power glove, to the Wii controllers, which pulled players into the game, more than any degree of realism could hope to. Thanks for all the endless hours and entertainment, Mr. Yamauchi, and know that your legacy lives on.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

invisible hand

There are quite a few conflated statements and actions in circulation regarding America's economy and monetary policy. While it is true that raising a debt-ceiling does not in fact increase overall debt, rather just re-calibrates a county's ability to fulfill its outstanding obligations, and despite evidence to the contrary about past fiscal cycles, history and precedence and possibly the very definition of madness in expecting any other outcome, such a correction does not necessarily speak to thrift and discipline. On the contrary, a commitment to not default and continue to match the caretaking and stewardship responsibilities of a government demonstrates a discipline usually understood to be the opposite.

Unfortunately, these overtures came on the heels of the unexpected announcement by the US Federal Reserve cadre to continue its policy of quantitative ease (read printing more fiat money) in order to encourage growth and investment. Interest rates could hardly be any lower to discourage the hoarding of money in savings and encourage growth through investments—being the more attractive place to make one's money work for its keep. Stakeholders, however, cannot be exactly led to water by dwindling attractions, when amounts are large enough to be insulated. Half-a-percent of billions is quite a lot, even when swimming upstream. Bursars the world-around rally, knowing there is enough cushion to offset the lack-lustre dollar with selective prestige projects. Though from separate accounts, it is an awful coalition, a coming together, a flittering programme to back up some eighty-five billion dollars monthly of shaky bonds (debts) with copy-machine collateral compared to the goal of saving eight-billion dollars spread out over a year, with follow-on aims for the next decade, in the name of sequestration—which, I suspect, achieved retrograde success. Already agencies, petty tyrants, are being urged to update contingency plans for a lapse in funding, which will play out the same as the exercise in work-stoppage known as furloughs. Absent cooperation and clear objectives, I am not sure what economies, who have painted themselves into a corner, could do.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

polling place or fragenbogen

A section of the German electorate is gifting its ballots to expatriates and EU citizens unable to influence the outcome of the campaign via a social-media group called Electoral Rebellion in order to lend a voice to those outliers affected by Germany's stance in the European Union, like the Spaniards and Hellenes in the face of austerity measures and others further afield with the potential to be touched by new German policy. From a legal standpoint, it appears, that the volunteers are simply soliciting the advice of foreigners, and participants—with no expectation of quid pro quo, would have probably voted for the candidates most sympathetic to the views of those voting by proxy, but the action does raise a needed discussion on supra-national politics and infringements as well. What do you think? Is this action, stunt not far from buying and selling votes or a broader and necessary world-view?


Der Spiegel's international desk reports through a narrative of the scavenger- hunt (die Schnitzeljagd) and a collection of the discoveries on the City of Leipzig being the latest entry among German metropolises in a new form of tourism that aims to capture urban landscapes in new ways through sponsored Photo Marathons. I really like this idea, although when exploring someplace new I have not assigned myself a certain theme, especially such esoteric ones subject to abstract license—except maybe manholes and graffiti.

Monday, 16 September 2013

biometrics or cutting off your nose to spite your face

Not long ago, a group of hacktivistas requisitioned the fingerprints of a high ranking German minister from a water glass in order to illustrate inherent flaws in the personal security prescription that the minister was championing.
The lifted prints were circulated and used in this experiment for impersonation, showing that any element of biometric data released into the wilds (that's why it proves useful for police in forensics) is prone for use and abuse and not such an advisable method for locking and unlocking personal troves. Of course, passwords not generally circulated are prone to other methods, but owning that false-sense of security is an expensive proposition. For the interim, I can envision people doffing and donning their shoes and socks for verification-purposes. There are of course methods to suppress ne'er-do-wells but I wonder with thieves wearing charm necklaces of trophy thumbs and toes if the sort of safety that is being sold to us is possible.

mmm mmm mmm mmm or tip of the tongue

As part of its weekly digest of innovative and new ideas, the excellent blog Brain Pickings features an interesting review of a new work from Clive Thompson about how technology are collaborating in positive ways to augment how we remember, learn and triangulate novel and familiar concepts. The book, “Smarter than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better,” smartly covers a lot of emergent and age-old praises and cautions and is by no means swerving to avoid the counter-argument or discussion, neither a retreat into apologies for new standards of etiquette and work-ethics nor a luddite bemoaning short attention-spans and information overload, but rather presents an extended thesis that certain aspects of on-line resources can prove to be transcending, proving one knows how these tools function.

Knowing how to use the Google seems rather basic, and a chore made progressively easier with each software update, and while being an accomplished mechanic is not prerequisite for being licensed to drive, most probably could better articulate the input and output of a car than the gullible crash test dummies we are for herd-mentalities and the whims of the tool-makers. One intriguing idea that the review puts forward is the tip-of-the-tongue syndrome—certainly not a new phenomena itself, strangely modernized by the internet, which allows one to reverse-engineer any escaping memory. Connecting the dots, however as the author cites, is only good as the dots one collects. The internet and its dynamic interface is certainly more than just a scatter-shot consultant but can be rather a constellation-maker.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

is there in truth no beauty?

Artist Juan Ortiz gives the original Star Trek series the brilliant treatment of re-imaging each of the the eighty episodes in classic movie-poster-form. At the link, one can purchase the collection and browse images. Though the title of individual shows might escape even the greatest and most-studied of fans, all are rife with iconic images that certainly take well to one of the pulp but defining art forms of contemporary (retro) times. Though maybe not all episodes of nostalgic television could be re-imagined as such, do you have memorable viewing experiences, either first- or second-hand that ought to be committed to this very portrayal, like your neighbours joining your parents to watch the finale of M*A*S*H*, Tatort or The Outer Limits?

laissez-faire is everywhere

There were several stories in circulation this week, echoing from many corners of the world and many times without deference to this being the fifth anniversary of the collapse of the too-big-to-fail financial house whose downfall placed economics internationally in chaos, that proclaimed real and shadow markets to be fully recovered and no longer in danger of relapse.

Maybe some early optimists took the occasion to express a brighter outlook and the mimics missed the crux of the context and rather not let ancient history complicate an apparent slow-news day or revive unpleasant memories and fueled with the hopes of returning to simpler and more trusting times—an economic nostalgia when the labour situation in Greece had nothing to do with the price of eggs and banks were an insulating factor true to their word that tomorrow could only be bigger and better. Indeed, some the language was reminiscent of the patriotic overtures to just go shopping in the aftermath of the September 11 Attacks to restore the world economy. Never mind about confidences shaken and disintegrated, the disclosure of inflationary and unethical practices, the stark shift away from social good and board and bed lost and increasingly aggressive circling-of-wagons by the banking aristocracy and their court, their sophists—journalism being a big part of that estate, to keep the game going. Dwelling on the negative and preaching doom and gloom is only helpful as a reminder and urging precaution—not that pathological adventurers need inspiration, but I do wonder sometimes who sponsors such spin and de-programming.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


The citizens of Bavaria will go and cast their votes for state elections on this Sunday, and I discovered, after appreciating the collusion of events, like the anticipation of the beginning of Oktoberfest, which celebrates into October starting on next Saturday, that state governments do have some discretion in setting the dates for election day—no sooner than 59 weeks before and no later than 62 weeks after the last cycle of four years hence.
And though there was license to place balloting the morning after the bacchanalia, officials put it strategically a week prior to federal elections. There is not the same kind of flexibility in campaigning in the United States, whose moment of decision, by law, falls on the day after the first Monday in November—due to the agrarian nature of the early US and notwithstanding the provisos of early- and absentee-voting. That German federal elections (and neighbouring Hessen's state elections also) come maybe while nursing a hang-over is quite another matter and maybe too by design. Coincidences of the calendar are certainly not always politically advantageous but does make one wonder when it came to the legal convention—like US presidential elections being always (except in the rare case of a year equally divisible by 400) on leap-years or during years of a summer Olympiad—locust plagues, perhaps, in addition to whatever sideshows can be introduced. I wonder if such precedents were considered.

Friday, 13 September 2013

austausch, b-gosh

Long had European Union Commissioner for Internal Affairs Malmstrรถm held her tongue over the on-going revelations of the breadth and depth of indiscriminate intelligence gathering on the part of the US—not, I think, out of a lack of concern or zeal but rather to not bait controversy prematurely, but digesting the reported reach of the spying, suggested that the lack of transparency could lead to the EU's withdrawal from the SWIFTBanking Treaty with the United States.

The agreement provides that the signatories hand over certain financial transactions to America, in the name of combating tax-evasion and money-laundering and rooting out all imaginable evils. Malmstrรถm, after learning how the SWIFT clearing-house for international bank transfers is apparently already subject to eavesdropping, she questions why they are now asking permission. Her statements have galvanised the parliament in Strasbourg and several factions have agreed to join together with demands that all cards be laid on the table, including back-door practices. Quitting the treaty would be a significant affront US-EU relations and mark the first time that a bilateral data-sharing (Austausch) arrangement was challenged—a few of which the Swedish commissioner herself helped orchestrate.

apiculture or re-colonisation

I fear that worldwide, bees—domestic and wild—are far from being completely out of the woods when it comes to any number of natural and artificial ravages, it seemed like the bees returned this summer in Germany, at least, with a vengeance.
Any number of factors could have been decimating their numbers, which drive worker-bees from their hives and thus the support system collapses—ranging from cellular phone masts, parasites, pesticides, genetically modified crops to mono-culturing, and I wonder what factors shifted here to very nearly make sitting outside intolerable. Or maybe those are just all the prodigal bees that disappeared from their home-hives on the return. Of course, I'll suffer a curious bee droning too close and investigating my food and drink but at times it was enough to move the table-setting indoors. It was worse and more immediate than ants marching on a picnic, and I wonder if the stabilisation of the population will once again make bees the object of irreverence, instead of dire concern, like with the portrayals of killer bees in B-movies and angsty media.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

subject-verb agreement or pluralia tantum

Mental Floss has a provoking list to puzzle of nouns that exist in the English language only in their plural form, like scissors, eye-glasses, amenities, britches, riches and remains. There is a complimentary phenomenon called singulare tantum, which are called the uncountable nouns, like information or comparing the last two previous examples—wealth and dust.

The formation occurs in other languages but the set of vocabulary is not the same, such as Eltern (German for parents and never used to refer to just the mother or father without complication) or Ferien (holidays and never singular, even when referring to a specific one or time of the year) or the Dutch hersenen (for brains, but unlike the German Gehirn, is meaningless without the -en). Ciseaux (scissors), lunettes (glasses), tรฉnรจbres (tenets, beliefs) are similar in English and French, and some words are flexible. Though it is interesting to try to figure out the logic and influence and imagine grammar another way, it sounds however very contrived to speak of a pant, when not breathless, or of a glass when referring to peripherals.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

castellan or look that up in your funk & wagnall's

After work I ascended to the northern most neighbourhood of the city, past the clinics and houses in the hills to seek out the ruins of the Sonnenburg. This fortress was named after the constable of the castle (ein Burgmann), a low-ranking noble title charged with the defense of the immediate surroundings in the early thirteenth century but the place was given successively greater recognition by kings and pretenders throughout the Middle Ages up to the Thirty Years' War that saw its downfall.
 It was a bit of a challenge to find, obscured by terraced homes and not on the high-ground but in a valley, and I had to inquire. “Excuse me but is there a castle-ruin nearby?” The eponymous community is also known as the place where Konrad Duden retired. Duden was an influential lexicographer of the German language, authoritative and the industry-standard like the Oxford English Dictionary or Noah Webster.

Monday, 9 September 2013

pro se or soi-disant

Shaking my head with a touch of disbelief over the way a German political party portrayed itself, I was totally unprepared for the stultifying display of ignorance and insensitivity that a senior delegation of legislators made, while on a fairy-tale princess reception in Cairo, as the New York Times reports.

Their message of solidarity, invoking 9/11 and a chorus of singing eagles was too revolting to stomach, and surely left a country already in flames and under martial law insulted, regardless of what political persuasion or whether considered rebels or patriots, and confused. “Stand strong, Egypt,” they said, promising to vouchsafe the some billion dollars in military aid the US gives Egypt annually. “Stand firm.” Not that this empty praise and grandstanding is not disgusting enough on its own, given that Congress is preparing to vote yea or nay on authority to attack another country in the region, or only give its tacit approval and thus relinquish any semblance of checks-and-balances with its authority to raise armies, make it all the more terrible. The unfortunate timing of the decision also has everything to do with the typical bailiwick of the legislature, having gone on recess and only affording themselves just a few days to tackle old and new business, including formulating a military operating budget and that has happened every year since 9/11.

Sunday, 8 September 2013


In between the late movie and the late-late movie the other night, there was an extended campaign advertisement, replete with officious warning what message that the viewer was about to be subjected to, despite which I thought was a fake, a spoof even afterwards, for the the Bayern Partei, the sometimes secessionist and euro-skeptic party that proclaims to represent Bavarian independence and champions a more libertarian stance.

I do not want to assume too much about their platform, which I was not really able to focus on through the distracting way their message was staged, since after all they proclaimed to be speaking for all of Bavarian and suggesting policies to curtail immigration do not necessarily bespeak intolerance and xenophobia, but what was presented, which I thought was a joke, was not conducive to understanding and dialogue. In as much as the party-faithful might have preconceived notions about Unionist politicians and outsiders, their little video was absolutely full of dread stereotypes about this region of Germany. In every scene, depicting forced political conversions, people dressed in traditional garb, Lederhosen and Dirndl, were gathered around fest-banquettes and drinking beer. The only substantial take-away was that the Bayern Partei was still upset about the no-smoking laws (das Nichtsraucherschutzgesetz) enacted back in 2009 and which removed loop-holes in 2010 and were dissatisfied with the governance and representation of the EU. Televised campaigning is a rare and regulated thing, however, the next day in the Altstadt of Bad Karma, our fair city, there was a festival which was unabashedly a chance for pressing the flesh and meeting the electorate. Local candidates from the major parties were present and some of the fringe, opposite groups. I could not find the Bayern Partei, though, to ask if that ad was legitimate.

special k

The brilliant Miss Cellania, writing for Neat-o-Rama, has a excellent essay worth revisiting on weights and standards and an homage for the caretakers of the physical embodiment, the thing-in-itself, of the kilogramme, Le Grand K, kept under lock and key in hermetic conditions in a facility outside of Paris.
While other measurements, like the Metre, which used to be represented by a metal rod, a yardstick to measure all other metres against kept in the same laboratory beside it's other Metric Pals (I rather like the notion that there are platonic forms of such abstract things, however), have been redefined in such a way based off of universal constants that makes artefacts unnecessary, weight, being subject to a lot of different factors like mass being distinct from weigh, altitude, the churnings at the centre of the Earth that affect local gravity and the fact that Le Grand K is tugging back ever so slightly against the City of Paris that keeps him solidly on the table top, I suppose, proves resistant to being described in terms of natural constants that could be calibrated anywhere, with the right instruments. Of course, for everyday use, approximations are good enough, even if a few grams or grains off—but for some purposes, like mixing up the medicine, discrepancies over a whole cargo-ship full of goods, or for the calculations that rely on weight as a function of energy, preciseness and consistency is paramount.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

invasive species

The BBC presents an article about the veracity of a supposed effort on the part of the Americans to cripple East Germany agriculturally. Having heard similar rumours before, I had believed that these little red and black, Aztec-patterned bugs, called the Zimtwanze (Corizus hyoscyami) were weaponised versions of the related box-elder bugs that we had in Oklahoma but to propagate that story was false as the bugs are native to Europe and Asia and don't seem to do much harm, just appearing in hordes every once and a while and getting stepped on.

The return of the pest, the Colorado Potato Beetle, however, in the 1950s, timed with daily relief flights over East German territory by American cargo to the enclave of West Berlin, proved for some farmers and Warsaw Pact politicians too great of a coincidence. A heated assault dispatched children to the fields after school to collect as much of the menace that they could manage and blame was squarely placed of capitalist conspirators, hoping to starve East Germany into submission. While the bugs threatened to cause a famine regardless of where they came from, there are two points of view—and it's hard to say what's an apologist's argument and what's reality. I expect a lot of situations are like this, and propaganda can be persuasive—especially for the victors. The article points out that the beetles had already been accidentally introduced in the 1800s, destroying a large part of the potato harvest. These destructive ambassadors had been subdued in the meantime, but it follows that the Colorado Potato Beetle could have made a come back after the war, with pesticide production limited and many farmers unavailable to dedicate time to pest-control, all on its own and without being dropped from the bomb-bays of passing flights. On the other hand, there was talk during the war of initiating the same biological warfare on both sides, whose actual execution was supposedly halted due to fears they would be unable to effectively contain what plagues that they unleashed.


On the coat tails of the announcement from the International Olympic Committee which will award the next Games' venue to one of a few cities bidding for contention, a public policy professor from the University of Maryland offers a modest proposal that makes infinite sense and may bring back some of the spirit of sportsmanship and of a world coming together to the event.
Although nations are eager to showcase their prowess and hospitality as hosts, the population of the select cities are realising diminishing benefits if not outright aversion. Recent Olympiads saw whatever profits and friendship that might have been gained quickly and overwhelming eclipsed by costs for security and infrastructure improvements, stadium building and accommodations, concessions—not to mention pre-award posturing, that ran into untold billions. The public were left with the burden and circuses that won't be used again. Some say it was the price of the 2004 Games in Athens that finally exposed the Greek economy's faltering state. In response to these enormous expenditures passed off from one metropolis to another like a torch no one really wants to bear, the university professor suggests that a permanent venue instead be established, under a United Nations mandate, for the Games.

The ideal location would be a Greek Island, administered like a city-state and equipped with all the modern facilities to host training and the sporting events in perpetuity, as well as lodging for athletes and spectators. Such a change would make the sponsors work for contracts and acceptance, instead of the other way around where commercialisation comes dangerously close to fixing the match. It would be a big initial investment but I think one that could pay off in the long run. I have always found it exciting to see a new part of the world featured every few years as the hosts for the Summer and Winter Games, but I suppose any place has more efficient means of promoting itself and reaching a larger (or the just the right) audience, especially when the burden and hassle become too much.

listening post or king under the mountain

There has been much discussion of late of the special relations that Germany shares with the United States but it is really difficult to envision the historic scope in abstract, encouraging words. Here is a map overlay with the addresses of US military installations in the country, starting with outposts and commands captured immediately following the surrender of Nazi Germany (the superimposition, excavation also reveals a lot about where those former facilities were) and evolving over the course of the intervening decades. All these coordinates were taken from public sources and some are already on the map—thank you very much, but I am sure that more than a few missteps and red herrings have been tossed in to determine who might be angling for this information.

View Outreach in a larger map

A favourite Cold War admission by the Soviets was owning that they knew all about maneuvers and where munitions were hidden by the Americans not through sophisticated spying but by simply monitoring subtle changes in the water—from a safe distance downstream, since soldiers in the field and remote locations were not wont to relieve themselves at the latrine. The sampling was quite telling. Though most sites have been abandoned and returned to the German government since decades, there was quite a concerted and concentrated effort that went on for years, driven by different factors, from the nightmares of battle and hubris, to reconstruction and containment, to ideological brinksmanship and polarisation and on to homesteading and inertia.
From a distance, it looks like it one could hardly turn around in West Germany without encountering an army base, but it is interesting to zoom in and see what occupies (or doesn't) that land now, an exploration of places both famous and obscure, and speculate about what activities might have been going on very near you in years past.

Friday, 6 September 2013

shofar, shogood

Rosh Hashanah garnered a bit of publicity by a friendly and surprising missive, but although the name of the holiday means “head of the year” it is not exactly like New Year's Eve on the Jewish calendar.

Instead Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of the the first man and first woman (Adam and Lilith, the first and more liberated mate) and marks a time for solemnity and self-reflection. Three ledgers are updated this day, one for the good, one for the wicked and one for those somewhere in between. In fact there are four distinct beginnings commemorated on the Jewish calendar, the first day of the first month that marks the beginning of time (1. Tishei) to count the passage of years, the agricultural new year for planting (15. Shevat), a new year for the counting of months and reckoning when festivals fall (1. Nisan)—like the Moveable Feast of Easter, and a new year for figuring tithing obligations for livestock (1. Elud). It's not a simple matter and certainly not just your typical revelry—learning about the culture is quite interesting and nuanced in unexpected way, however certain traditions have been translated into the Christian calendar, like eating black-eyed peas for good luck and the conventional German New Year's greeting of “gute Rutsch!” a successful sliding, transition into the new year, originated from the Yiddish for a good Rosh.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

cipher or three-letter-initalism

I used to pride myself on being able to recognize a good deal of the county-coded car licensing-system of Germany.
I got pretty good at telling who was a long way from home and it was an engrossing meals to learn about different communities when a unfamiliar plate passed by, but I think now I am falling behind. As of mid-July, however, the competent authorities of Frankonia and other localities have released, re-introduced the naming convention of 1973 when smaller jurisdictions were annexed into their surrounding counties. The decision has proved wildly popular as a chance for expression, personalization and local patriotism and slowly the new license plates are appearing on the road. As the trend is sure to take on, it's chaos, I think, and I have a lot more to learn. H told me that the new, nostalgic abbreviations often were used in the classifieds for properties and he never knew what MET or Kร–N or GEO meant.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

yaarg! or a darkly-adapted eye

Although losing an eye was certainly an occupational hazard (I can only imagine terrible incidents with splinters), the stereotypical pirate did not, it seems, wear an eye-patch only to cover up a handicap nor to look like a veteran.

The accessory is only associated with the rogues of the sea-going profession but seems to have a scientifically confirmed practical use in preserving night-vision. Constantly rushing below and above deck takes time for vision to acclimate, especially when entering into the dazzling sun and preserving one eye accustomed to the darkness and switching sides allowed the pirate captain not to be completely blinded in the transition.  What other costume items do you think might need disabusing?


German partisan politics prides itself on being about platforms and delicately negotiated partnerships and not about personalities, though in practice this is not always the case. A huge campaign poster of the incumbent, not espousing any slogan in particular, other than with the status quo, the country is in good hands with a signature pose.
The opposition is crying foul, saying that such a display, and usually such big billboards are only allowed by election monitors under very specific conditions, is reducing the governing coalition into a cult of personality, veering dangerously close to American-style politics and polarization. And of course, there is some free-publicity thrown into the mix, what with the necklace (Kette) in black, red and gold that Angela Merkel wore during the only televised debate with her chief rival catching notice and being bestowed with the strange kind of personhood of a social-networking presence—sort of like a sausage, pin or match-stick from one of the Brothers' Grimm lesser-known fairy tales. What do you think? Does charisma necessarily dilute stance? In the States, no one would bat an eye at this sort of showmanship and instead try to outdo the competition. I like the straightforward promises of one candidate, a local hopeful—opportunity, education and Beer, repeated ad infinitum on lamp posts.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

netiquette or sos, sms

Bob Canada's Blog-World makes an excellent commentary on the prescience of Star Trek. In a few panels, the author shows how even in the retro-future of 1991, the series predicted that for some people virtual Facetime becomes more of a priority than actual face-time—not discounting all the other wildly hopeful and innovative developments that Star Trek has envisioned. Have you experienced the same treatment, understudied, or are you, etiquette-wise, guilty of being a Romulan yourself?

pinocchio or bukimi no tani

BBC Future unpacks (inactive link) an idea taken as a given with mixed results, ranging from gut-instincts, testimonials and test-groups to research studies that makes the parabolic projection of the the so-called “uncanny valley” a phrase first coined in robotics some forty years ago by a Japanese inventor who used the term in an essay more elusive.
As the imitation approaches closer and closer to the original, there is a proportional feeling of unease that ends in aversion—or that's what experience teaches at least and there is a general belief it is something vainglorious to romance the mirror. I think too I should feel pretty disturbed if I cannot distinguish a human from a replicant, an avatar or a zombie, and would reject aping perfection out-of-hand. More often, I think, I have mistook a living operator for something computerized. The article is definitely worth the read and I find it interesting that the topic is introduced via a project to build a humanoid robot to assist children diagnosed with autism to better read facial expressions and non-verbal communication. I wonder if that says more about how we perceive humanness and otherness than the cosmetics of an android.

vacay and staycation

Traditionally, August is the month when Germans and most other Europeans take holidays, and there's an old, rather tongue-in-cheek adage against falling ill during that month since hardly a doctor is to be found. I heard a report on the radio on Monday—the first workday after the last huzzah, I suppose, of August, which I thought at first was a bit tongue-in-cheek too, but the topic was addressed with all earnestness and I guess that really reveals where my mindset reverts to.

The callers and the panel of experts sounded like a bunch of recalcitrant school children, dragging their feet and dreading the new academic year, when talking about resuming Common Time for the work year, girding oneself mentally and techniques for easing the transition. I know we have been very bad about travel this year and taking any extended leave of absence (or rather very good from an American point of view, since one rarely hears as a lament “we only took three vacations this year”) and am never eager to return to the day-to-day drudgery—which is only endured for the chance to make the next trip, but I was mortified that I was unable to at first relate and mistook the whole exchange as a lampoon against day-dreamers and leave-takers. There is another adage—that Americans live to work and the rest of the world works to live. I hope I am firmly in the latter category.

Monday, 2 September 2013

he ain't ratched

Although the truly positive associations stop at fancy and at best the term quickly atrophies into a back-handed compliment, like being called a champagne-socialist, I think I would like to champion the introduction of the German word Prunk into the international pidgin. Like posh that never really caught on, prunk can indicate something elaborate or ostentatious, flaunting or ceremonial—bling, I think it describes a lot of things and people's attitudes towards presentation and deportment. There's a certain weightiness—on loan—that gives the term a certain substance, as if one could plonk it down, whatever the estimation, rather than just being some glittering, costume-badge.

dynamic duo: parish church of saint cecilia

Taking a leisurely but unwanted drive to start the work-week, and having learnt about the further collaborations of master architect Johann Bathasar Neumann and fresco artist Christoph Thomas Scheffler, I stopped in the town of Heusenstamm by Offenbach. On my way to see the baroque church, among their , I first passed under a very fancy (prunkvolle) gate, which the German Emperor Franz I had built in honour of his son's, Josef, being crowned the king of the Romans in Frankfurt am Main.
This post is  a precursor to becoming ruling the parallel Holy and Roman Empire of the Germans, and keeping control in the Hapsburg family.
Franz was residing at the Palace of Heusenstamm for the event—the Schloss is today used as the town's city hall and holds other administrative offices, surrounded by a palatial garden.
The town itself, after the extinction of earlier, founding dynasties, was firmly under the control of the dukes of the Schรถnborn family, prince-bishops and electors of Wรผrzburg and Bamberg.
Family members, I learnt, were buried in the crypt of this church, which with the support of her famous relations Duchess Maria Theresa had commissioned. I marveled at the ceiling, depicting among other things the resurrection of Lazarus, and discovered that the patroness, a Roman maiden that got cold-feet before marriage for pious reasons (quite a common reason for beatification back then, it seems) became, for singing at her wedding, in a round about way the muse of church music and someone for composers to look to for inspiration. In fact, the Cecilia that Paul Simon extols in the famous song is a little prayer for frustrated song-writers, lamenting the distractions that come with the lifestyle.