Wednesday, 30 January 2013

lexical or i will not buy this record, it is scratched

One of my favourite passages from the helpful and earnest 1884 Portuguese authors’ phrase book “English as she is Spoke” is on Trades, which presents the career possibilities of “starch-maker, porter, barber, Chinaman, coffeeman, Founder, Porkshop keeper, gravedigger, Cartwright, Tradesman, Tinker (a brasier), Stockingmender, Nailer, and Lochmaker.” Another is a bestiary of quadruped’s including Lamb, Roebuck, Ass, Dragon, Shi Ass, wild sow, Ass-colt, Lioness, Ram (Aries) and Dormouse. Of course, there’s small talk, like For to wish the good-morning—How does your father do? He is very well. I am very delight of it. Were is it? I shall come back soon, I was no came to know that to know how you are. Willingly good by.

type o-negative or captain caveman

Quite a bit of fad diets and spindled advice come and go, and while the best home-spun recommendation usually run don’t skimp on food and know one’s constitution, some candidates, I think, remain enticing and sensible, and without disparaging the strength of motivation and paying attention to one’s body, one’s habits, earn more credit than is due. It’s no Jedi mind-trick to present any comer with an array of caveats where one is bound to find enthusiasm, either for or against. Validation and challenge to one’s palette or approach is equally fixing and offer the same such bait for consideration.
Seeking out a healthy mix of second-opinions can raise a lot of incompatible ideas and contradicting advice. Reinforcement with chiding is a situation that one is more accustomed to than even pure success of failure, regardless of the estimation. Some dispensaries are more effective than others, and if not loyalists, franchises like eating for one’s rH factor, like one’s great grandparents, or like a Neanderthal have garnered much interest, which is a quality as compelling as any visceral emotion—just so with homeopathy and training to become a confirmed optimist. To have a kernel of truth, a bit of solace is a hook, enough and enduring when there’s a bald hint of reaffirming rightness and knowing one’s misguidance was common enough to merit correction. Maybe the new packaging has more to do with processes than any inherent weakness, without condemning the bulk and body of the industry to willing prospecting, maybe the explosion of allergies and sensitivities is more attributable to lifestyle and shortcuts in production. It is immature cheese that has the highest lactose content, and maybe the vogue of intolerance is more because of how it’s cut, even in polite company, than any new epidemic or any revelatory remediation.

Monday, 28 January 2013

trance or quantum-leap

The science desk of BBC has a fascinating article that opens up the disciplined world of knowable physical phenomena to the confounding confines of quantum mechanics, which normally escape experience and expectation in tiny, evanescent spaces, through the aspirations of Nature, a force which works within an established framework, surely, but is known and distinguished by its ingenuity, regardless of what invisible hand might guide it.

Abiding biological mysteries, like the sense of smell, certain migratory instincts, and the processes of photosynthesis, may elude definitive explanation because their mechanisms have shoe-horned bizarre physics, which may as inventive and opportunistic as life itself. Maybe an inter-disciplinary approach will lead to answers and discovery of more novelties. Organisms have an embarrassment of choices, without having to commit to one paradigm over another, and perhaps in a narrow sense the pantheon of the sciences admits the same.

Sunday, 27 January 2013


A very common and ancient motif for guesthouse signage frames figures in a pentagram, usually comprised of intersecting triangles, like so generally but not always

Despite its ubiquity, I never bothered to find out what meaning there was behind it, since unnoticed symbolism governs all such establishments and I was content in guessing the common emblem was the Star of David or some time-out-of-mind male-female duality cipher, which carry enough hidden meaning and glosses of interpretation already. It turn out, however, that there is a quite but not necessarily separate legacy to this design. The society of Pythagoras associated the sign with hospitality since antiquity—imparting protection for travelers. Germanic lore understood the symbol as the footprint of a circumspect swan, stepping ahead and back again and would insure guests a good night’s sleep, warding away sprites and nixies that stir nightmares for those away from hearth and home. They called it the Drudenfuβ, resembling the footfall of its nemesis, and it kept noisome spirits from crossing the threshold by encouraging them to turn right around.

Saturday, 26 January 2013


The borough of old London town have some quite fanciful street names, with some equally fanciful but probably incorrect folk-etymologies.

The thoroughfare and surrounding neighbourhood of Elephant and Castle, named for the tavern, and the public house Goats and Compasses seem more sensible one is told they are respectively corruptions of the exotic sounding “Infanta de Castile” (presumably in honour of the wife of King Edward I, Eleanor of Castile) and a mishearing of “God encompass us.” The accounts are tantalizing, in fact, except that an infanta is a princess not in the line of succession, which Eleanor was not (the notion and controversy of Spanish princesses would not become a topic of the English public until the fiancée of Charles I, some three centuries on), and pubs generally were not named after such lofty invocations. There are numerous cases of place-names being transformed to make sense in the vernacular, especially on the Roman side of the Limes (the furthest reaches of the empire into the territory of Germanica) like the city of Koblenz, from the Latin for confluence (die Zusammenfluß), positioned where the Rhine and Moselle rivers come together or Mainz, original named for the fort Mogontiacum, in deference to (or perhaps disdain for) a Gaulish god.
Schweinfurt, whose deep harbour presents an impossible challenge for swine to ford the Main river but rather came from an old Gothic designation Suinuurde, meaning the exact opposite, something akin to quicksand. The names of the British guesthouses likely naming is direct and intentional, relating to symbols adopted by venerable guilds that set up shop in these areas. It was more interesting to be disabused and learn that the Worshipful Company of Cutlers used as their logo an elephant (carrying a howdah on its back, a fancy carriage for the raj of India, named for its resemblance to the chess piece) for its ivory tusks, used for fashioning knife handles. Goats and compasses probably should be taken literally and could refer to a variety of trades, from people who actually cobbled shoes from goat skin to the enclave of Rheinish barrel-makers (coopers), whose craft was hallmarked by mathematical precision (a drafting compass) and a chevron (^) that stands for a fret, frieze or frontier for crossing obstacles reliably, much like a sure-footed goat, which has the same Latinate root.

Friday, 25 January 2013


Since their inception, there have been standards enshrined in the culture of highways, Autobahnen with the intent of breaking up monotony without sparing on utility. There are mandates for gentle curves in order to keep drivers alert, in contrast to straightaway, required in some places to allow for emergency airplane landings.
Sometimes such subtler persuasions are overshadowed by constant construction works, same-otherwise by a few vistas of spectacular scenery and roads hugging the contours of the landscape. There are still, however, quite a number of long numbing stretches of road, especially for the express route through flat lands. Although not common in America or Germany, there are score of techniques tried in France, Denmark and the Netherlands to with art streaming along the margins, posts a-pace with the traffic that change like flip-book animation, rather abstract and Jungian and light installations. Some really creative things have been done, but now such Dutch civil engineers are applying their artistry to creating smart-roads, beginning with a stretch of highway by Eindhoven.

Though the pavement is yet to be steam-rolled and there is a balance of skeptics, planners are brimming with ideas, like hyper-colour reactive paint, that yields neon blue snow flake patterns on the asphalt when temperatures dip below freezing or luminescent lanes that glow in the dark, roads that monitor traffic conditions and issue reports (displaying warning to drivers of on-coming traffic jams), cull wind power from passing cars to power a lane designated for electric automobiles that they might be charged en route. I imagine that quite a bit of energy could be harnessed in intelligent and passive ways. A lot of ideas to make vehicles more efficient are making some head-way but still fall short of where we should be, but paying heed to the pavement, the other substrate may yield a lot of inventive solutions.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

fig leaf or bootsy collins

This day marks the anniversary of the assassination of the Roman emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus by a cohort commander and a group of dissatisfied members of the royal guard. The emperor was is more commonly known as Caligula, a nickname earned in his childhood while accompanying his father on field marches, scurrying to keep pace with the adults in his little boots. I am sure that was only earned posthumously. His removal from power makes the first known occasion in the history of the Empire that an emperor was removed from office by a grand collusion of the military and the Senate, and not the usual intrigue over succession by their own relatives.

Whether accounts of his exploits, deviancy and cruelty were wholly accurate or otherwise—victorious politicians get to write histories and not the deposed and surely there is some embellishment to make one’s predecessor more unpalatable and make the transition of power more acceptable in the eyes of the public: making a priest of his horse and threatening to promote him to Consul, pimping his sisters, torturing innocent bystanders out of boredom, &c. The list of crimes goes on, and no particular engineering project, campaign or public works attributed to his reign has much power to unsully that reputation. It would be hard to ever separate rumour and backbiting from the truth, but it does seem that Rome anointed no shortage of colourful statesmen and ambitious dynasties. Some one hundred fifty years prior to Caligua’s rule, there was a boy Caesar called Heliogabalus, who was accused of a host of eccentricities, decadent but not inhumane and a foot-note to the Major General’s song from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. If true and not fabricated as an on-going smear campaign against his memory, it is possible that later writers and opinion-formers only were holding neutral (and not the cause for regicide) chronicles up to their own standards of morality and deportment. Of course, the near or distant past is not a distorting plain of ill-repute in itself and many figures don’t need a relativistic or revisionist lens to be qualifiedly bad. I just hope that we are able to look beyond historical prejudice and perhaps unreliable narration, sift through the muck and tell the difference.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

ship of state or islands and bridges

The announcement by British prime-minister to subject the country’s continued membership in the European Union to a plebiscite, something once and future, is inviting a broad spectrum of comments and opinions. From opinion polls in France and Germany, anchors of the enterprise, there is a leaning towards some kind of glee when they can ceremoniously roll out the red carpet for Britain’s exeunt, warnings from EU leadership underscored with cries against the UK for wanting to dictate terms, and perhaps most salient, there are demands on the contingencies of it all.
Putting the matter of Britain, which many conclude as foregone, to a vote by the public is bound, perhaps hopelessly, with retaining the current government, and is deferred to a future date to ensure the reelection of the prime minister’s political party. Such an opportunity is unmistakably a mandate for many of the voters. Special arrangements can certainly be made (the EU should not be mistaken for the euro), and hopefully this proposal is not a political ploy and the choice should absolutely be in the hands of the citizens, but such promises and pandering seem only confounding and leverage for more concessions that will weaken the union, inviting others to grow finicky over their own dues.

herbie or christine

There was a rather disturbing report on the radio, heard naturally driving home when one can reasonably expect to be able to divide one's attention to an extent, confident that one's car is reliabily able to behave within certain parameters, regarding the very real eventuality that highly computerized modern cars, swarming in some cases to the beginnings of a network or at least integrated with accessories normally associated with networks, are quite vulnerable to digital sabotage.

This awareness and pushing the possibilities has not shown itself as something malicious, but has rather grown from the frustration of hobbyists and independent mechanics, restricted any administrative rights to their own cars, without the expensive intervention of a factory-authorized workshop. Hacks and back-door methods (all variety of strange tricks built into sub-systems for the programmer and technicians to pry into a car, figuratively, like clicking the door-opener in a certain sequence—sort of like the control tone of an automatic telephone dialer or the squeltch of a modem) are widely circulated among enthusiasts, and could be easily turned towards more sinister purposes. Doors could be made to only appear to lock, breaks could be made to fail on command. The possibilities are really frightening and limitless, considering how most people feel fairly secure and self-sufficient behind the wheel, and a computer virus disabling productivity and entertainment is one thing, but it is certainly another matter considering how a similiar infestation, not viruses but gremlins in this case, I guess, could manifest as something physical, hulking and deadly. The reporters even made a practical exercise of what they learned with the help of some experts and learned how easy it was to inobtrusively break into a car and rewire the settings. They were not yet quite able to remotely control the vehicle via cellular phone, but that scenario of marshalling zombie fleets may not be so far off.

spendthrift or plakateller

A delegation of officials from the city government of Berlin will be making a rather spartan holiday to the city of Athens, hoping to glean a few tips from the Athenians for economy and efficiency in operating a municipality under budget-constraints. The trip, planned for sometime in April, seems ironic and maybe a little bit disingenuous, since the German capital is not being threatened with real austerity, despite being unable to run its affairs without a significant in-pouring of funding from other German states, though I guess someone always gets the blame for bad management in the end. I hope there is no condescension behind the idea and that people take to heart what is working and what is not.  Maybe a little bit of fiscal-restraint, executed with empathy, will make for better governance and less hubris all around.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Monday, 21 January 2013

sour grapes

There have been quite a few studies that tend to indicate that a few, well-spaced random distractions, breaks to look at pictures of dogs and cats, increase over all productivity at the workplace. Part of that logic seems like a concession to me, because after all, what is routinely pressing and requires laser-like focus (or occupies a full eight hours of the day) to begin with? A hypnotic gaze at this cat might restore meaning in your job, since having such luxury to squander might propel one´s work-ethic into over-drive. Or not.

ersatzteil or fantastic plastic

The industrial and design revolution that will make makers and engineers of us all with the rapid introduction of three-dimensional printing is patently exciting, and it will bring in its wake consequences that we cannot foresee in form and function that is instant, intuited and mediated by a collective inspired for its own sake.

The majority of these knock-on effects will be positive, creative—and I think there will be a revitalization of the neighbourhood copy shop, repurposed to print custom extruded plastic dinguses and in the commons of internet cafes and lounges, besides all the workshops and laboratories unhinged with no need to conform to the dimensions of traditional industry. There is a great sense of expediency, of course, which does mark a difference, but plastic smithies are not far removed from the village forge, whose smiths required skill to work the material and envision their product, and I can remember a wonderful, though limited, replicating machine from my childhood: at a metropolitan zoo, there was a contraption that would allow one to choose a souvenir animal, from a selection of molds, and before one’s eyes, inject molten plastic into the form and dispense it—still warm and a bit malleable.
I got a blue elephant, but with this modern invention, I suppose one could wish for anything, from a replacement bumper, a personalized action-figure, a key to leave with the house-sitter, a bicycle-helmet, a scale model of my block, a watering can with a long, thin spout at the right angle to reach the plants without spilling, a pedestal that’s just the right height, to a prosthetic foot, tailor-made. I think the un-apprenticed will quickly acquire the spatial- and stress-knowledge for their Goldie-Locks cobbling, working up to ever bolder and artistic departures from the template through trial and error. The movement would I think bring back a sense of community, things, piece and part being no longer exclusively in the estranging and ransoming hands of business, which is excellent, but I hope the fabric of the revolution is managed in such a way that we are not splintering the problems of manufacturing from a few areas to something omnipresent and contributing more towards pollution and consumption.
Safety and durability should always be a factor along with resource-fulness and caring for the environment, but I suspect that the clever architects of a technology that is continuously progressing will see to that the 3-D printers will become more and more energy efficient (not reduplicated factories in miniature) won’t remain finicky machines (like cheap paper printers with their exacting and costly refill cartridges) but will be able to process plastics presently destined for the recycling bin and sort-yard. It will be nice to see the return of collection drives, as well, as recycling too becomes an immediate process.

it slices, it dices

We picked up some paper napkins from the Einrichtungshaus decorated with this very clever pattern (Muster) of antique kitchen implements. I have a general aversion to disposable napkins and try to use them sparingly and always twice, but they are important to presentation like the vintage catalogue depicted. I hope that these anonymous designers know that their work does not go unappreciated.
We have a growing collection of fish knives, relish-trays, cake servers, coasters, salt-cellars, moutardes, mortars and pestles, coffee mills, icing spoons, and more usual utensils, like these silver forceps for grasping a hot, hard-boiled egg or these serving tongs for slippery asparagus, which we try to put to purpose every chance we get and not just have as decoration. It is not about etiquette or intimidating table-manners but rather just opportunity.  Do you have a quiver of specialized kitchen tools just waiting for their moment to shine, as well?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

bring a sweater

vins de primeur or painting the roses red

Although the concept of organic (Bio) foods has gone through some reversals lately in terms of health, environment impact and efficiency, I was not one to completely discount the label. I did grow a bit leery of the movement, however, when it started encroaching on water and wine—the first was recanted as a gimmick, and as for vinification, I wondered how respectable wine-makers would allow wine-hacks to sully their product, since surely there are standards governing the whole production process as well as tradition. They’d have to call it something else, like Champ-pail or Hwine, if it was too treated, wouldn’t they?
The local grocery store recently, however, had a handbill, a guide for vegetarian and vegan wines (initially I thought it would be about pairing the right wine with a vegetarian meal), that was part informative and part pandering fretful-consumer purists, I thought at first. Apparently producers are allowed a few shortcuts, more prevalent among vintages brought to market within the same calendar year (which is not necessarily a sign of a cheap wine, since only a fraction actually improve with age after that first year), and one such hack involves clarifying the pulp (Must, Most) with natural, albeit animal-derived products, like gelatin (made out of old bones and hooves, like the coating for medicine capsules), fish oil, egg white, and casein (a milk protein).

Some of the selection suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets is identified with an organic (Bio) label, but certainly not all and there was a surprising amount of vintners that are sold internationally and available at many stores, like the French Grand Sud and JP Chenet brands, Australian Badgers’ Creek, Californian Western Cellars and the majority of Italian varieties. Although I don’t subscribe to the strictest forms of vegetarianism, I do respect those who choose to and know it’s hard enough keeping clear of animal products, especially when they are snuck in as part of the refining process. There are more than principles behind this, since people ought to know what’s reliably kosher and be able to choose. In the end, it’s not just about lifestyle, since these bovine- and chemical-understudies, catalysts have unpredictable consequences and probably are cryptic contributors to poor health and over-sensitivity (and the de-sensitivity leading to abusing food and drink as well) and the explosion in allergies.

mountain high, valley low

Two recent articles featured via Neatorama offer up an intriguing triangulation touching ethics, technical feasibility, the capacity for imagination as well as questioning what it means to be human through the lens of speciation. The latter points to a very interesting interview between reporters with Der Spiegel and a Harvard professor who is one of the leading thinkers in the field of synthetic biology, regarding the possibility of resurrecting the Neanderthals, whose genetic map has already been successfully sequenced and cloning this branch of the family of man would be (after all the questions are answered, and the scientist and his team invite public debate as essential) a relatively simple matter of finding a willing surrogate.
Like the Jurassic era (adapted into an early cautionary-tale) is named for a mountain range in the western alps, the sub-species Neanderthal is named after a valley (Tal) near Düsseldorf, frequented by a pastor in the 1800s, called Joachim Neumann (Neander is the Greek-form of new man) for inspiration. The characteristic limestone layer of the age was first discovered in the Jura mountains, and the fossilized skeleton of our cousins was first recognized for what it could be in Neander’s valley. Notwithstanding the harvests of genetically modified crops that have infiltrated our food supplies mostly out of business interest (we have not yet made good on the promise of drought-resistant crops for famine-struck regions but that is not a profit that companies can necessarily take to the bank), vaccines, and pedigrees of dogs and cats, it is not acceptable to create or revive sentient beings purely for the benefit and advancement of human kind—in the style of Planet of the Apes, however, Neanderthal physique was at minimum more robust than ours and may have been smarter than their lither and perhaps crueler competitors.

We already do not know how to procede with the little knowledge we already have about tinkering with DNA and are not able to treat other humans humanely, so perhaps this sort of thinking is a bit premature but it still does not remain unreachably in the realm of fantasy. Neanderthals could conceivably have a different take on intellect and help solve the problems that the surviving Homo sapiens created, make new scientific discoveries and be kinder, more empathetic leaders—maybe the ruling class we need rather than putting our trust in the hands of robotic overlords. Mingling our genetic material would create more diversity, too, and perhaps provide resistance to a host of human diseases. These last two benefits lead to the former article regarding what the Star Trek franchise has taught us about evolutionary biology.
The humans accepted the benevolent tutelage of the more experienced Vulcans before arrogantly taking on the Universe like the Wild West, and characters like Mr. Spock, Mr. Worf (Worf was raised by adoptive human parents), Counselor Troi, and B’elanna Torres were outstanding representatives of both sides of their families. One wonders if alien races could really inter-breed, and perhaps it was just a plot-device to excuse costuming and set-design due to budget-constraints (the teleporter was written into the storyline because it was cheaper than staging a ship landing every episode) but the analysis recalls an episode from the Next Generation that explains the humanoid appearance through panspermia, orchestrated by a dying primogenitor race—as well as the hybrid children, since the concept of specie is marked by the ability to cross-breed naturally. Maybe science fiction does not answer all the ethical and philosophical quandaries when it comes to experimenting with genetics, but it probably does provide a good place to start.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

moving day (part the first) or needful things

The day is approaching, and although it has been on the horizon for some time I felt like there was more time always, or my new job to start that will have me migrating during the work week.

I will still get to come home on the weekends, but this arrangement is going to be intolerably strange I think in the beginning. I am, however, pleased with the little apartment we found near enough to everything to make driving unnecessary—I was never suited to driving in larger German cities in the first place and it would take some time to build up confidence and courage to not leave the car on the outskirts somewhere—which H and I started delivering some effects to recently. It came fully furnished, which is a bonus in itself—being able to avoid duplications for a temporary arrangement, and done so with a nice and personal touch.
As I spent a few hours alone in the room, however, thinking “hello, walls” my mind raced over a hundred artefacts that could it in this or that nook and corner. One can never think of everything, but it’s amazing how quickly one can build up and visualize the missing inventory, like when returning home after an extended vacation and the dimensions and relations of familiar things seem somehow exaggerated and being out-of-place is easier to spot. In any case, despite whatever was left out (that I could bring on my next trip), I had a rather large world globe from the early 1950s, a peripatetic library of books to read, and an antique butter-churn in a jar, which I consider far superior than any trifling convenience left out.
One item overlooked, probably more by my own carelessness than anything else, was the key to my postbox, which was also not labeled. Searching for the likely slot, I saw that I had a quite special fellow-occupant (Whom I hope to never meet and spoil the illusion) and that He does not have time for junk mail either. It will be a change, certainly, and although I walk already quite a bit, I could detect the difference in culture along urban streets already, like one is transported a bit more when accompanied by stately homes and enterprise, but I think everything will be OK.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

war on _________

Towards the end of last summer, there was somewhat of a landmark study from a Norwegian institute into the developmental effects of marijuana smoking in adolescents, which suggested that routine usage was detrimental to cognitive abilities in later life—measured by changes in the intelligence quotient of subjects. The research was expansive, endorsed by peers and seemed to proffer a sensible outcome—that the brains of teenagers are still plastic and going through important and formative stages that make young people acutely sensitive to the effects of getting stoned.

I am sure the timing was beyond reproach, but the story made the headlines just ahead of some US states voting on decriminalizing marijuana possession, whose decisions were arrayed with a host of mock-worthy, exaggerated public service announcements (propaganda) on reefer-madness. By no means was the project without merit, but the researchers are recanting on their earlier verdict, having realized that when selecting participants to follow and evaluate one significant denominator was overlooked: they neglected to factor in background in terms of affluence and poverty. Growing up in an environment with the stresses of being impoverished and fewer opportunities for intellectual encouragement and stimulation has, patently, grave effects for cognitive skills. Readjusting to this baseline, the study seems to confirm only negligible deleterious effects in terms of intelligence, but without endorsement that getting high is the best way to spend one’s crucial years, since wealth and security suggested that one would be less likely to develop a habit in the first place. Regardless of the flaws, the research does clearly show that policy should be focused much more on the tragic hardships of poverty rather than arbitrary illicitness.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

peppermint twist

PEZ, I learned, is an Austrian confection whose name is taken from the initial, middle and last letters of the German word Pfefferminz—the original flavour of these tiny candy bricks.

Emanating from a line of accomplished physicians in Vienna who turned their sights to improving the leavening process for baked goods, the candies were discovered while perfecting the chemistry of baking powder. The dispensers, now iconic and numbering among one thousand five hundred different characters, were designed to have the dimensions and feel of cigarette lighter and proffer a quick succession of mints as an alternative to smoking, which the founders considered a nasty habit. PEZ was promoted as a means to stifle the appetite, just like smoking, and a way to bait one’s acquaintances, hoping to bum a cigarette, with a surprise that was also hygienic (one didn’t need to handle the candy to offer it to another). When the idea failed to expand beyond Europe, PEZ was transformed into a commodity for young people, which has a lasting-power as collectibles and in many different incarnations for adults, too.

voyage, voyage

Wikitravel, a partner site but not truly a sister project of Wikipedia universe, is an excellent resource but is not something fully integrated. Now, however, the Wikimedia Foundation is launching its own travelogue portal, Wikivoyage.

It is still under development but looks to be a very exciting repository of adventure, exploration and impressions, fully cross-referenced and ripe for exponential expansion with encyclopedic resources to draw from. In the doldrums of work and winter, vacation is a tantalizing idea but seems too far away and not especially encroaching, on the approach right now, but that is sure to change soon.  What grand tour can you contribute?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

franklin mint and in the darkness bind them

There’s a lot of talk about minting a pair of trillion dollar platinum coins, taking advantage of an economic fiction and a loophole in the language addressing what the Executive branch may or may not do in regards to with a fiat that effectively negates the statutory debt-ceiling (also an economic fiction) by having enough money in reserve to cover those outlays. At best, it may be the wedge that the US president needs to unyoke the country from financial hijacking, and at worse, it seems sort of a silly tactic that’s hard to consider fully the ramifications of and just more delays, but I don’t necessarily believe it’s the black-magic option (as opposed to the nuclear-option) and something malevolent forged in the bowels of Mount Doom.

A coin in this denomination is certainly not the same as a collectors’ item but other such limited runs of commemorate coinage definitely have a more sinister side, that some in the US government are using to their constituents’ advantage. The Legislative branch culled riders that would funnel money to pet projects in the working-copy of the budget, however, there are scads of concrete and abstract causes (witness the calendar of awarenesses for all sorts of worthy things) that are all championed by special interest groups, to whom some representatives are beholden to oblige even with their earmarks taken away. One roundabout way to appease the lobbyists is through minting commemorative coins, whose sponsors are owed any profits after production costs (borne initially by the US Treasury). The public is not forced to buy these coins but doing so would be a way to support a particular campaign or lobby group more or less directly—not to mention, collectibles are usually taken out of circulation (with or without an agenda or ideology—grandma would rather do without than spend her Lawrence Eagleburger eagle dollar coins even if she just got them as change at the toll booth) and all those dollar coins (or whatever the face value) are sequestered in individual hands—with tokens and scrip, rather the heads or tails’ of ones choosing, becoming good for all debts public and private.

Saturday, 12 January 2013


Regularly on the weekends, there is a concessionaire operation setup in the parking lot of the local supermarket that sells roast chicken—and fixins, for take-away. I noticed that the company offers a catering service, as well, for, as suggested, weddings and what’s called a “Polterabend.”

I was not quite sure what that could be—a noisy evening, like a Poltergeist, a restless and loud spirit. What kind of haunting did this entail? I learned that, in line with the marriage bash, a Polterabend was the name for an engagement party in some parts of Germany, where guests would traditionally celebrate the announcement with a big to-do and bring with them old dishes. They’d then ritually smash the plates (and anything else made of ceramic or stoneware that would break spectacularly), making quite a racket to symbolize a new beginning for the couple. During this counterpart for both a stag-party and a hen-night (Bachelor and Bachelorette parties), other good luck customs are observed, including an obligatory serving of chicken soup. It’s pretty neat what one can learn from the back of a van.

underpass or suburban legend

Though second- and third-hand tales abounded, until recently there was no undisputed evidence of cow tunnels boring under the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. Although far less incredulous than giant crocodiles, sprung from unwanted pets flushed down toilets, lurking in sewers, urban spelunkers are beginning to map out this forgotten underground network, meant to reduce the traffic of livestock brought into 1870s Gotham disrupting human transportation.

Atlas Obscura’s intrepid team of explorers reintroduces this lost bit of infrastructure with a bit of history and discovery. Of course the detour avoiding the most crowded parts of the city was not a radically new idea, what with established gazing commons and cattle trails crossed by railroads and highways. Underpasses were dug in order to keep them doggies rolling. New York’s grid, however, seemed by all accounts a complex and unseen labyrinth. I wonder how many other cities and towns (London, Paris or Berlin, perhaps?) created similar networks (mazes of alleyways, canals or elevated catwalks) for market days and have long since forgot the original use of these passageways and re-purposed them for other uses.

Friday, 11 January 2013

[sic erat scriptum]

Although deceptively straightforward, I find that I am having a tough time with reflexive verb forms in German. Little pronouns like mich and dich and generically rendered as sich modify directionality quite a bit—zum Beispiel: I could have kicked him as opposed to I could have kicked myself.

This much is clear but this turning in sometimes is expressed in unexpected ways. Lohnen by itself signifies incentivizing, remunerating, paying a wage but sich lohnen is for something to be worth (one’s) while or whereas handeln is to act or trade, sich handeln um is to involve and implicate. I am sure the kernel of the logic of parts of speech is in there somewhere but it is not always easy to extract—for me. How does one come to that? Whenever I try to interpret something with a lot of curves and detours, it comes across in such a butchered way, without extensive help, that each sich becomes a sic—Latin for “thus” and usually rendered in brackets to highlight that something’s that’s been faithfully copy with all the glory of errors and poor grammar. The Latin can pop up as a little acerbic and derisive sometimes, like an angry little self-righteous editing mark, but being muddled is often instructive and one can be wrong in creative and interesting ways, too.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


There has been not an insignificant amount of pontificating about the up-and-coming generation of young adults, college-goers and pedigreed for the workplace, by psychologists and trend-minders of all ilks that sounds on the one hand like a fire-and-brimstone sermon meant to inspiring fear and quaking and a bit of humility and at the same time, a very dire caution. Although such warnings and calls for reflection are ignored at great peril and the adjudicated assessments of others are always worthy of consideration, to say that in the main that people growing up vicarious through their avatars, with an on-line persona that shields individuals from criticism and dissent and attracts and enhances esteem and confidence, are at best a cohort of megalomaniacs may be somewhat of a Noble Lie.
I can’t tell who the recipient and conjurer of this fib are exactly, however. It reminds me a bit of the theory that engineering’s prerequisite is manual dexterity and not being too privileged not to have had to work on a jalopy, or that self-confidence is no measure of success, given that success’ measure scorns contentment. Demographers and psychologists have pronounced that young people in this age group are saddled with a sense of entitlement expressed in terms of high opinion not commensurable with the studiousness or effort they’re willing to apply. Their own virtual lives, fronted and secure, in fact, often scoop their genuine experiences. These are important and uncomfortable affronts that any of us should have the courage to face. In the end, however, I suspect it is not a very novel critique since, parenting not discounted, there have always been vanities particular to each age. J. J. Rousseau and La Rochefoucauld wrote about amour-propre (self-love) already in the mid sixteenth century, Plato warned of sophistry by the fifth century B.C., and the story of Narcissus dates from the time of legend.

cosign and spirograph

Current White House chief of staff and former budget wonk Jack Lew is the new pick for Cabinet posting of Secretary of the Treasury. Though a seasoned veteran of Washington, Lew’s appointment’s is garnering the most attention over his loopy, hoovesie signature that will eventually appear on legal tender.
My simple signature—honed and hewn down to next to nothing due to having to sign a lot of paperwork, sometimes causes people to balk and occasionally I am prompted for something a little more legible or identifiable—especially by the postal authorities. I am sure Mr. Lew’s John Hancock would not pass muster either, and it looks like an awkward scrawl of acknowledgement on one of those electronic signature pads at the checkout—the kind that you can draw anything on and the screen brightly informs you that signature is accepted and verified. I wonder where in the aether those x’s are sorted and if they’re ever brought back up.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

new soul and lucky 13

My little sister and her partner are about to have a baby.

This is fantastic and makes us uncles. Babies are such a wonderful way to start out as people. I can’t get my mind around the whole circumstances, whereas my sister seems pretty cool and collected. I wish I could be there in person for all the firsts but I’m sure they’ll all be shared. It’s a challenge to put oneself in the perspective of someone growing up in this age, never having not known so many things but I suppose all generations go through that and the essence of technology and capability is far less radical or different than changes experienced by ages past. The demarcation between public and private is no more and no less respected either, only freedoms and intrusion are wired differently.
In fact, there is nostalgia for those ages especially just out of reach for the authentically vintage and retro-inspirations that nearly revival the engrossment and cultivations of the Victorian Era.  What is new however is how cultural packets are narrowly and nicheingly disseminated—the sharing and promotion that is the new norm. History did not begin with the digital age of easy-access, and certainly memories and scattered artefacts can be retrieved in an even more living fashion, but the expectations and obligations that go along with this do mark a dividing time. It will be very exciting going forward for our little niece, and moments relived, with or without the aid of total-recall, are cherished things.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

freegan or waste not, want not

The German English daily, the local, has a nice feature story on two creative and thrifty women in Berlin, lamenting the awful statistics about how much food goes to waste and hoping to bring some tired and true ideas about community back en vogue through a good example and a bit of activism (which is a strange idea, as one of the founder remarks, how common sense and civility need formal and organizational cues). They hold quite posh tea-parties and dinners, seated around a grand table, with a fancy fare scavenged from leftovers from farmers’ market stalls and other food that would be otherwise destined for the rubbish bin. Guests pay per plate a donation that goes to support international food programmes. I’m sure there’s nothing grungy or unwashed about the whole gala, which the founders hope to expand to more cities, nor overly stagey neither—though I think the juxtaposition of entertaining in a junkyard would add to the statement and message, forcing one to peer past the packaging and shuttling away and other illusions that make our impact easier to stomach.

Monday, 7 January 2013


Another new addition to the household is this fantastic French Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) candelabra. Right away, I named her the Cosmic Candle Lady for the halo of tapers her embracing arms support. H’s father admired the piece and sweetly asked if she were a bear—I guess for the three combs in her hair, which kind of do look like ears.
H was a little embarrassed, since he had previously pronounced our Christmas Angel a witch and mistook our spoon-rest for an ashtray. I thought that characterization, however, even better, so now it’s Great Astral She-Bear. The constellation of candles, locked in orbit, also reminded me of the unexpected revelation about the unexpectedly regular paths that dwarf galaxies waltz around the Galaxy Andromeda, discovered at the insistence of a young and promising French astronomer (DE/EN). There might be more of an aesthetic balance to nature than is readily admissible, after all, and maybe something also that a fresh pair of eyes needs to see.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

wes craven’s pulp fiction babies

We were watching the late, late movie the other night and The People Under the Stairs (Haus der Vergessenen) was playing, featuring a Ving Rhames that was quite young looking (although there was only three years difference between this horror-comedy and Tarantino’s film) sporting a kicky Malcolm-Jamal Warner (aka Theo Huxtable) style leather cap. For other, established actors, progression seems to be at a more natural pace, not cinematically augmented.  I wonder if there is a certain threshold for discoverability that makes some actors seem very different, transfixing nature to certain unshakeable roles.

kakao oder heiße schokolade

Wanting to finish off the Christmas chocolate (at least symbolically, since there’s too much but one can always gnaw at a santa) for Twelfth Night and Epiphany (Dreikönigstag) and feeling a little sorry for brutally biting into it, I was reminded of an interesting and detailed history of chocolate and hot cocoa, which have both been somewhat slandered in recent years—especially cocoa, distinct from hot chocolate—that is surprisingly full of machismo and bravado, which I read recently on a clever new blog called the Art of Manliness.
Cocoa, rather and not the blog, throughout most of its venerable history until contemporary times was unapologetically macho and a bit chauvinistic. From time immemorial, cocoa was not merely reconstituted for children on cold mornings, but a holy and privileged source of vim and vigour for the Aztecs, Olmecs and the Mayans of Mesoamerica as valuable a commodity as gold, and even after European contact and commercialization of cocoa and its derivatives, still remained an elixir of heroes, promoted to bullfighters, soldiers, explorers, and firefighters. The qualities of this tonic were diluted somewhat with the discovery of how to deliver chocolate in solid form, but the article, in addition to tracing that development, presents a good analysis of constants, like the substance’s nutritional and chemical benefits, cult and reputation. There are quite a few interesting tangents offered to explore in the chain of custody that follows this drink of warriors to its present-day representatives.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

lol or I am the monarch of the sea, I am the ruler of the queen’s navee

To celebrate National Trivia Day, 4 January (my apologies for missing it), Mental Floss contributor Jason English published a selection of outstanding facts and figures to ruminate over. I think that the most appealing trivia really pulls one into the circumstances behind the bald and enticing oddities and invites, demands further research and piques the curiosity.

One of the items concerned this corres- pondence between retired Admiral and First Sea Lord Baron John (Jacky) Fisher and Winston Churchill from September of 1917, which contains the first usage of the initialism (with explanation) OMG. The context of the message seems a bit tongue-in-cheek, maybe a play on the honours OBE, Order of the British Empire, and similar styles.
Curious, I learned a little bit about the writer and discovered that Fisher, perhaps only second in renown and importance in naval history to Lord Nelson, served first during the Crimean War and kept the Russian Empire from expanding further in the Scandinavian territories, and later then under his command British supremacy in the Mediterranean (the anchor locations of Gibraltar, Malta and the Suez) was solidified and the navy was significantly modernized. A lot more could be said and will require more studies into these lives and times. Fisher was a colourful and energetic character, besides—penning the interjection OMG! was just a bit of gilded (but rousing) trivia distilled at the end of a long and illustrious career.