Thursday, 28 February 2013

turn-on, tune-in, drop-out

A sort of national Sabbath, with no allowable fictions or preparations needed, is observed tomorrow with the national Day of Un- plugging—such a movement has taken on universal proportions, I think that all of us have an embarrassment of choices available to us when it comes to being off-line, dozens of analogue and manual things to make whole and appreciate. It’s not downtime, like a power-outage, that usually inspire thoughts like “I could do the vacuuming, except—“ but really a disconnection that pulls one’s attention elsewhere. I am really not one to speak to this sort of Lenten forfeiture, but it does seem like a very good idea that bears regular repeating. How do you plan to observe this date and spirit it represents?

oracle or time and temperture

A really engrossing article from Aeon magazine profiles some more big-thinkers regarding the fracturing future possibilities for mankind. Building from an earlier clever interview that leaned towards the apocalyptic, our impulsive and unhelpful tendencies are explored but also our positive capacities and how they might be synthetically extended.
Like some hard-hitting thought-experiment, which does not seem so far-fetched like the classic Cartesian teasers of Brain-in-a-Vat or Teleportation that involves re-assembly of a subject on-site with simultaneous destruction at the origin, the dialogue summons up a hypothetical, benevolent and omnipresent Artificial Intelligence, having gradually won acceptance, that’s like the Ancient Greek household gods, cults, patrons, oracles and wishing-wells, only closely monitored, mimicking current trends in social networks and driven traffic, also known as popularity. The intelligence’s only manifestation in the real world would be as a question-and-answer service—a very sophisticated one, which would learn by aggregation of all queries and solutions offered, evaluating and project their outcomes. Such a universal internet, pervasive and accessible, could learn as well by positive-reinforcement, and here I think is where the dialogue veers towards doom and gloom, sort of like a lab rat (by who are the overlords and who is the subject?) who avoids an electro-shock or earns a treat from historical successes and failures. It all sound eerily familiar, and the landscape, world-view of inquiring minds. But how accommodating is the landscaper? Certainly most problems are not without precedence and our predicaments and quandaries are not as unique as we’d like to think in some form, but a lot of examples from the past do not necessarily yield a right, correct answer

Monday, 25 February 2013

conclave

Although not without historical precedence, the more reflection dedicated to the Pope’s resolve to resign his post enlivens some interesting repercussions. It seems that one cannot simply retire from the office, and his intentions to repair to a Roman monastery make me wonder if Benedikt will be a mentor, a shadow pope, inviting a second succession of schisms for the Church Universal.
And does his decision open up an expectation, the option for all predecessors to gracefully bow out, whether a divine directive or public perception of being outmoded, like some old and tired politician. With some providence, we will not be overcome by such intrigues.


autodidactic or natural interface

A team from the University of Karlsruhe has been awarded an honourarium from an internet giant for having developed an “air-writing” system to make using touch-screens easier and more intuitive.

The input device is a glove—with hopes of reducing the apparel, the tether to a wrist-band later, and seems quite promising. The idea that we could reify our gestures makes pashas of us all, clapping to summon a servant to feed us grapes. I don’t know about integrating the ability to shout demands into everything, since words are a form of communication and not just a one way street and characters are made of a lot of errant gesture, not all of which are appropriate to realize right away or with the help of an over-zealous assistant. I do like the idea, however, that one could write on a make-believe tablet or make a telephone call by pantomime.

horse-feathers

There is due cause for revulsion and concern when it comes to food-security and integrity—and I don’t think that this strange phenomena is polluting clinical studies but it is something to consider when one has everything under the microscope and genetic makeup is something writ-large like a rancher’s brand—but Nature periodically orchestrates a very elaborate waltz between genomes, in ways not fully understood though more and more bizarre examples are being discovered.

In a process called horizontal gene transfer, DNA chimeras have been lurking unseen for eons, with volumes of genetic information inserted among very different animals—complete sections so that one can identify the host’s donor. This practice is standard procedure for bacteria but biologists did not think such exchanges were possible for complex organisms. Although there’s no means to test the hypothesis yet, one idea is non-discriminating parasite, like ticks and fleas, have helped facilitating these series of incorporations. It’s also unclear how these out-of-context sequences assist the animal, or are they merely hitchhiking, like the parasite that might have introduced this spice to accustom itself to a new taste.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

shoo fly

Experimentation is possibly demonstrating the waning efficacy of pesticides, namely in tests involving the pervasive chemical DEET. Mosquitoes that are spreading the scourges of mankind that defy overcoming on first exposure avoid the active ingredient, developed by the US military to make jungle warfare more tolerable, but upon their second encounter, seem inured to the taste and don’t seem to mind it so much, like acquiring a taste for coffee or beer and maybe even a liking for it.

Seeing mosquitoes ignore the intended effects after just the next exposure is interesting enough and I’m no advocate of dousing oneself or one’s surroundings with concoctions of dubious value (or making it a pedigree of one’s fruits and vegetables), but it gets really interesting when one raises the question whether such circumstances exist in the field, do mosquitoes get the opportunity to return to the same watering-hole a second time, would be a fair question—or are the laboratory stocks of mosquitoes and their forebears too acclimated to such synthetic experiments, like little trained fleas whose talents run in the family. Departure—prematurely, from the scientific method builds up undeserved confidence and we would do right to wonder about what’s not dispensed with moderation

bottleneck

Spielgel’s Eines Tages has a fascinating little article about a short-lived micro-nation that came into being in the Rhine Valley due to cartographical errors in dividing up occupied Prussia after WWI among the British, French and American area-of-responsibility. A gap resulting in dividing control which left the region containing the monastic town of Lorch, Kaub and Limburg isolated and able to claim a quasi-independence.

Because of this quirk, as the mayor of Lorch proclaimed (who was subsequently elevated to president), from 1919 to 1923 with the formalized French occupation of the Ruhr and putting a stop to the shenanigans of this Freistaat Flaschenhals (the Free State of Bottleneck) with its annexation back into Prussia. The shenanigans consisted of border enforcement, issuance of their own stamps and currency, and profits to be made from smuggling coal, cows and wine from occupied lands into unoccupied Germany.
Trains and barges had to avoid this isolated territory, but pirate operations and black-market trading became quite sophisticated rather quickly. This place is really a picture-postcard idyll, not very far away at all. We’ve been through the area a few times but never knew about this history before, and on our next trip, we’ll have to see what traces we can find about this curiosity.






Saturday, 23 February 2013

future-perfect or jam to-morrow

BBC Magazine profiles an interesting study from Yale University’s department of Sociology on the potential connection between the confines of grammar and financial readiness, with likely bonds among the cultural gradients in the spectrum of mores, like hierarchy, collectivism versus individualism, gender equality, etc.
The lead researcher groups all the world’s languages into two classes, one group, which includes English, is marked by a strong shifting of tenses to express action, intentions and wishes that are to take place in the future, covering both the mundane and the inspired, and the other group of languages whose rules of grammar do not make a big distinction between present and future. The difference does not fall strictly among family lines—for example, while in English one must say, “It will snow tomorrow,” auf Deutsch, a close relative, one can say, “Morgen scheint es” with no ambiguity.  European on balance languages seem to have the most formal ways of differentiating time. After large-scale studies on the future-oriented habits of speakers of these different lingual classes, mostly involving savings and retirement but also habits, like exercise and preventative health, that defer rewards for present action, the researcher found a strong correlation between shoring up for one’s future, whether one’s Golden Years or something more immediate though not instantly gratified, among those speakers whose tongue did not really have a separate future tense.

I wonder if there is also some corollary for those complex past-perfect constructions that some languages admit: I would have had already been on the road, had it not been snowing. Some peers in the fields of sociology, economics and linguistics found these conclusions to be specious, but such ideas, daily affirmations in the way grammar may make tomorrow very different from today (I always thought it interesting that in Spanish and German and a lot of close dialects, the word for mor- ning and tomorrow are the same and without causing grave confusion), estranging and currying procrastination.

exchequer

Lashing out again with a stolid critique of how the kindness of governments to business is less than optimal, like a cornered viper—old and tired but still wanting to show it can strike, one of the credit-rating agencies has stripped the UK of its top-shelf status, over ballooning sovereign debts that are edging to three-quarters of national output. I suppose it is on some level responsible to try and check borrowing and incurring more liabilities with such denouncements but relatively, a lot of economies—though not the physical, functional marketplace (should there be one) necessarily, are in the same boat and Aaα may just be the new top credit score.

existential event

The very fine and peripatetic blog Kottke directs to an interview from The Atlantic with Oxford philosophy professor Nick Bostrom about humanity’s penchant to attribute its destruction to something external, like a collapsing environment, meteor impact or seismic event rather than culprits of its own making.

Of course, external threats and the fragility of life are a factor and garner attention, but it is more likely what we synthesize ourselves (including a degraded eco-system) prove a more likely cause of our downfall, creating and crediting enfeebling regimes far more dangerous than a pyro-plasmic blast. Selectivity is still going on a-pace in Nature with this bubble-chamber of technology evolution going off at a perhaps different velocity. It’s a bit gloomy but I really appreciated the poster waxing philosophical after reading the article, pondering, projecting whether the lack of contact from an alien race wasn’t due to a technological developmental threshold once reached, say cellular telephony or nano-technology, which is archetypal and inevitable and all the potential neighbours destroyed themselves. This pondering echoes the frightful but sobering prognostications of author and astronomer Carl Sagan, who suggested the same over the atomic bomb. Native cleverness should not make the Universe a desolate place.

Friday, 22 February 2013

mental note or zettelchen

We all have certain internal monologues, which are sometimes broadcast in other venues, but others, possible more rare since so much is shared, with varying degrees of self-censorship and editing, are meant for our consumption alone. German public radio had an excellent vignette about one such surreptitious collector of those private streams-of-thought (leidiglich, nicht entweder auf Deutsch), intended for the author’s eyes only, and compiled her findings and reflections into a book on the ephemeral phenomena of the shopping-list.

Mostly found cast off at the islands in the parking lot where one returns shopping-carts, the character of these anonymous reminders, which only need be intelligible to the user for the nonce, became quite an interesting subject and obsession. Most lists, interestingly, are written in long-hand and at least half-way understood by strangers, and others still are coded strangely as if necessity and vice were a matter too delicate to commit to paper, lest someone should see that this household is a buyer of toilet tissue, and many also betray an escaping word that is not readily recalled—Fuβrubbelding, an exfoliator for one’s calloused feet, I guess, but perhaps that is the correct German term. Sometimes when I go to the super-market without a good plan in my head and get a little overwhelmed by the selection, I’ll spy other shoppers and think, “Oh, that’s exactly just what I need: a shopping list,” and get a little jealous. It only need be a cue good enough for daily chores but such notes provide an unexpected insight, when not much else is close-hold. H and I sometimes write grocery lists for each other and I’m not sure that the detail or idiosyncrasies are not much different than what we’d make for ourselves.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

norange and copasetic

Mental Floss has a neat little article on the origin and mutation of English words garbled by mishearing them and shifting grammar conventions.

I never thought about elision being behind differentiation from foreign sources, like Apron and Napkin from the same root—though Napron transformed into “an apron,” same with Umpire, from the French for nonpareil (nonper) or the n- became incorporated with nickname. I can think of some examples of slurring peculiar to English that has given rise to perfectly respectable words, like the injection Zounds! from Christ’s Wounds or the happy affirmation of Copasetic, a signal used by bootleggers during Prohibition to indicate that the coast was clear—that the cop is on the settee, dozing. No, there was never a norange in the English language but it seems a likely candidate—as the native Asiatic fruit came to the West via Persia and Spain as narang and nananja and came to be known in other Germanic languages as a Chinese Apple (Apfelsine) but in England, via France, as an apple from Orange, un pomme d’orenge, for the port city on the Mediterranean.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

free-hold and thegn


I find it nice that my old bank, and perhaps my new one as well, supports the dream and demand of home-ownership with various avenues thereto, even though such aspirations in Germany are not unattainable, of course, but traditionally not defining of one’s character and not some obligatory rite of passage, to be saddled with an enduring debt to call one’s own. I find it a little off-putting that the Rubik’s Cube image of a house chosen resembles the movie poster from the film Cabin in the Woods, making the whole arrangement seem rather darkly and sacrificial, and not in a responsible way. A home and wealth is something generational, a legacy but neither are regarded as with such status any longer, I think.

geo-politics or rare-earth tafel

Geologists researching defunct mining sites around Leipzig are discovering veins of rare-earth elements, which are in high demand for the electronics industry mainly as something akin to what the connective tissue and synapses need to metabolize in circuitry.
Currently, China has a virtual monopoly the world’s supply, which might be putting manufacturers in an awkward position, given purported labour conditions and compromising environmental practices. Germany, first trying to provide resources through electronic scrap, is studying Australia’s, as China’s chief competition, less than sloppy-seconds for ideas on how to extract pay-dirt in a more responsible way. I wonder how the shift in potential suppliers, though price always seems to under-cut accountability, might alter the landscape of prospecting and consumerism.

liberal arts or oh the huge manatees

Former foreign correspondent of London’s Financial Times, Robert Cottrell, has been sharing and celebrating his transition, gradually then unabashedly, from a daily producer of copy to a voracious consumer of it, on his website called The Browser. I was delighted to discover such a resource, which is a very discriminating connoisseur of writing worth reading without being fussy, particular about the source or subject. This careful and enthusiastic curating has gone on for some years now, and I hope regularly perusing the recommendations can impart the discipline that I wish matched my curiosity.

wildfire

The spreading discoveries of horse and donkey meat in samples of processed foods in discount supermarkets does not only represent a revolting betrayal and a call for consumers who either seek out the greatest apparent bargains out of thrift or out of necessity to re-evaluate trust and priorities. Shoppers who are not patronizing their local butchers and farmers’ markets, though left with some reliable alternatives at grocery stores, have to wonder what sort of institutionalization in Europe make cheap food no good deals.

It turns out uncovering some substitute, some mystery meat is not very surprising, but represents a definite departure and a dissonance for Europe’s regular reputation for food integrity and insisting on provenance and chain-of-custody. All produce, fruits and vegetables, are clearly marked with their country and farm of origin; eggs are individually numbered and sometimes bear a bar-code; regional specialties are according special rights and no counterfeit could claim the same designation, despite allowable gimmicks and self-promotion. Once food is processed, however, all such labeling becomes voluntary. If not fresh or raw, frozen “beef” or a pre-washed mixed salad in a bag, there was formerly no requirement to disclose the origin of the ingredients, though misrepresentation was something not tolerated, as well. It seems a little bit inconceivable, considering the prominent labeling that one can choice from on cartons of store-bought pizza and other Fertiggeriche, which usually come at a premium, and sometimes one cannot avoid taking a certain risk, when dining out or at a cafeteria (Mensa), but legislation is underway to close this disturbing loop-hole.

Monday, 18 February 2013

across the pond

While the media focus on European economic policies and tax accords from the perspective of the States seems more preoccupied with the potential spillage and knock-on effects of the proposed Tobin Tax, a levy on financial transactions and market trades, the burgeoning talk of a trans-Atlantic Free-Trade-Agreement, urged by both the US administration and European commission president seems an idea comfortably, tantalizingly far away.

Though it is probably true, for both optimists and pessimists, that reaching any kind of meaningful and functional compromise, aligning US and EU standards on safety, quality and transparency, can only be achieved in a receding distant future, displaced by politics and protectionism (by those current players who would be excluded, too), the notion and the will for such an arrangement is not a Fata Morgana that one can never meet. Naïvely, perhaps, but not without hope as there have been plenty of examples of Bridges to Nowhere over trade and tariffs, like the bickering over the aerospace giants or the fact that one cannot purchase a Silver Lady in the States but embassies of genetically modified organisms, untested drugs and wage inequity are equally unwelcomed, the mutual benefits have been articulated, of substantial increases for the gross domestic products of European nations through fewer administrative and process barriers and greater job security for American export industries.
Those sound positive on balance, but I fear that consumer protections will suffer through compromise. Instead of meeting half-way or adopting the more stringent standards of one partner, existing safeguards, like employment rights, food labeling requirements, safety standards and protection for the environment and livestock will be relaxed, diluted in order to meet industry imposed milestones. I hope that this is not the case, because risking health and security is no lubricant for trade, and to prevent these attitudes from prevailing, one cannot take the stance that procrastination and off-putting is acceptable, any more than in the here and now surrendering one’s sovereignty and self-determination to creditors is.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

extraterritoriality or bridges and islands

As I was completing some of the bureaucratic tasks to settle into my new job, I found it a little ironic that the special vehicle registration office (Kfz-Zulassungsbehörde) for the Hessian state capital of Wiesbaden was located in a particularly contentious former exclave, the borough of Mainz-Kastel and probably the least allied location for a function peculiar to state authorities.
 I knew that there was a certain patriotic tug-of-war between the state capitals, facing each other on opposite sides of the Rhine, but I did not know about the details or history at first. In Roman times with the founding of the frontier fortifications at Mogonticum (Mainz, Mayence), the empire first crossed the Rhine at this point of land with a bridgehead established at Kastel, with first a wooden bridge in the year 11 BC and then a permanent stone structure in the year 71 AD.
The modern Theodor-Heuss Brücke was built in the same spot. A triumphal arch dedicated to the memory of Roman general Germanicus, who nonetheless was unable to penetrate far into Germany except via a narrow corridor of control hugging the Main and the Danube to just outside of Regensburg (Limes Germanicus, the German limits or frontier), stood here until probably the early Renaissance.

Mainz-Kastel existed as an enclave of the Rhineland-Palatinate (historically, itself a district, an exclave, of the non-contiguous Kingdom of Prussia, et al.) inside the municipality of Wiesbaden (the Grand Duchy of Hessen), with some notable interruptions, until the end of World War II. When mapping out the zones of occupation, and subsequent formation of the new federal states of Germany, the Allied forces decided that the border for the French and the American sectors would be drawn by the river, and it became administratively easier to realign Mainz-Kastel with Hessen. In the end, the historical feuding is mostly in fun, I think, and in keeping with the spirit of Karnival and the Fasching season.

local colour

I can remember this strange sort of introductory hazing in the form of a ritual and obligatory exchange among freshmen at colleges away from home, which goes something along the lines of: “What is Friendly’s? What you call Arby’s, we call Hardee’s. I went to a Piggly-Wiggly once when we were visiting my aunt in Alabama.” And so on with the comparison of the terroir of fast food and grocery store franchises. I wonder if such conversations still take place. Having lived in Germany for more than a decade, I wouldn’t have thought I would ever notice regional branding again, since all chains seem to co-exist peaceably.
Of course, there is preference and convenience, but there never seemed to be a “Rewe-town” that locked Edeka out or kept down the competition or any demarcation—except for Aldi-Nord and Aldi-Süd (and I understand that now Aldi is really prevalent in the States too)—that defined the borders of a company’s reach, like an Appel/Apfel line in the German Sprachraum. I am beginning to notice, now however living in a place where it’s easier to forego driving altogether, that there are assertions and neighbourhood anchors, of grocers’ and supermarkets, that do require some shift in selection and expectations, plus there are more smaller markets that are independent and not part of any chain, which I am enjoying as well and certainly worth seeking out.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

polk salad annie, gator’s got your granny

National Geographic magazine had an interesting feature on the work of researchers at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, from 2008, finding that the blood of alligators and other similar swamp denizens has prized anti-microbial properties, which can stave off infections from many types of bacteria, including a few that have developed resistance to human antibiotics through keeping too neat and tidy and abuse of our resources.  Five years on, the research still, I think, merits a look and an update.

It stands to reason that alligators and crocodiles would have strong natural defenses, since they tend to lead fairly violent careers and sustain battle damage in not the most sanitary conditions, yet don’t succumb to infections. The protein fragments, peptides, in the blood of these creatures may even combat HIV. It all sounds like some voodoo white magic but seems promising. I wonder what happened.  Translation of these chemicals, however, may not be immediate and direct since such high levels of peptides would be toxic to humans, although I imagine not less toxic than AIDS or gangrene.

awareness, knowledge, liking, preference, conviction, purchase

I suppose all targeted advertising, by its nature, is somewhat recursive, and there are limitations to what product or service can be matched to content, but for those of you who dare dither towards the bottom of the page, perhaps you’ve discovered more about “decorating the walls,” my sponsors and just perhaps, a little bit about yourselves (or rather at least how demographic sub-routines and marketing algorithms might describe you, though we don’t care what they think or give them any credence).
Meditating on these strange and spammy haikus, however, I grew more and more intrigued about the workings behind these simple text ads. I imagine it’s quite primitive and probably would not yield anything useful—the mechanism, but I wonder if there are some sort of organic, spontaneous commercials that build themselves according to the latest visitor and content of the web site, rather than being apportioned from a pool of existing advertisements. It’s primitive, I guess, in so far as no one is really paying for that service and the effectiveness would be too big of a gamble (right now, at least), but it would be pretty keen if computers could generate a well-executed ad and find a product for it afterwards.

valkyrie or learning-curve

Here is another interesting find from the vintage science fiction archives of Project Gutenberg, which presents an eerily modern commentary on drones and action-at- a-distance, the short story from 1953 called “Watchbird” by Robert Sheckley. All these ebooks are available at no cost in a variety of formats, including epub for viewing on iPads. The images are taken from BLDGBLOG’s latest discovery of expansive bird’s eye view eye-charts, laid out in remote areas of US testing grounds (rediscovered via satellite maps) used to calibrate spy cameras dispatched on weather balloons from that same era.
Such test-pattern topology probably is not necessary for autonomous UAVs whose sharp sensors and acuity have become sort of a moral unto themselves, and that’s exactly the quandary that Sheckley’s prescient tale addresses, in a future-present where we’ve released judge, jury and executioner as stand-alone extensions of law-enforcement.

kiosk oder sehen, staunen, verstehen


There is a thoroughly enjoyable interstitial daily program, between talk-shows, the news and prime-time, on German television called Galileo that covers popular science, history and culture. There was a fun segment the other day, which prompted me to explore their internet presence and find that old, complete episodes are available to watch on-line with added profiles and references (one has to browse through the entire show to find a particular story but that’s OK and the commercials are entertaining as well).
The report canvassed Germany in search of its most unique Automats—discovering them in formats ranging from vintage photo-booths rescued, lovingly restored, and then installed by a pair of entrepreneurs in niches all over Berlin, including building lobbies—these simple and classic contraptions, which are not for passport-quality pictures, are proving wildly popular despite the fact that anyone with almost anything can take polished digital photos and make an omni-chronicle—to an out of the way coin-operated dispenser that a dairy farmer built that delivers fresh milk directly from a cow, robotically milked, to a promotional Automat in Köln’s train station that, in exchange for a good imitation of a cat’s meow, gives out a free sample of cat food. What sort of automated service would you invent? What convenience ideas from the past would you revive?

Friday, 15 February 2013

news round-up or won’t somebody think of the children

There has been a strange colluding focus in the reports towards the waning of the week with a somewhat strange commonality.

First, revelations that horse meat is being dished up in processed foods, albeit in frozen bricks of lasagna that seem a bit suspect to begin with, is sparking mass-hysteria among consumers, primarily because said horse meat was not on offer and some are a bit discriminatory, finicky about what animal they are eating. I think it’s perfect that the scandal coincided with the beginning of Lent and might make people rethink the importance of giving something up, a commitment that has lost a little bit of currency. The attendant panic, and more so in regions where horse is on offer and is husbanded and butchered quite differently than horses not meant for human consumption (as opposed to race horses and dray horses), concerns steroids and doping substances ingratiating themselves in the human food chain. Never mind that that’s already happened with all other livestock with antibiotics and the run-off from human over-medication that’s leeching into the environment from our sewers. The EU is forming a new task force to address these issues, and with more fell severity and forensic certitude than the mysterious food-poisoning cases of two summers ago.
The other strange headline was of course the meteorite that exploded over a populated area in the Ural mountains. That’s a pretty spectacular occurrence though its unfortunate that people were hurt and property damaged but surely something to remember. When I first half-attended to the story on the radio, I thought maybe it was the anniversary or new research into the Tunguska explosion in 1908 (though half a world away from the Urals) that perpetrated by a meteorite some a twenty times as big and leveled forests. The political reflex was to placate the shocked by pledge to protect the public from the threat of such impacts, which while it is possibly feasible to shield against something as big as the asteroid close to passing the orbits of Earth’s most high-flying artificial satellites (which supposedly had nothing to do with the impact but gravity has a far-reaching influence) could not provide an umbrella again every shooting-star.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

eros, agape, xenia, storge, philia


civics lesson or universal sufferage

Along with the other city-state of Bremen and Brandenburg, surrounding Berlin but not the federal city itself, young people in Hamburg now reach the age of voting majority for state and local matters at the age of sixteen. Sharing responsibility and direction is of course not without precedent and probably the most opportune time for engagement, when outreach and not inculcation or unlearning the habits and attitudes of parents is the best antidote against feeling either in-between or later jaded and disenfranchised.  I hope that this trend sees wider adoption.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

household heraldry

I spied this interesting frieze on a corner of an apartment building while on a walk—a really singular motif, I thought, under the eaves of constructionist, cubist embellishments bracketing pilasters and edges. I was not able to determine, just yet, what such a decoration is properly called, but I adore how each functional and formative element has its own name and style. To have a home dripping with the projections of a very specific period is something pretty outstanding, almost as keen as harbouring a saint’s alcove or some other legacy in one’s living-space.

austatten

There is a certain range of predictably and com- mercially classic, which one could expect to find decorating the walls of hotel rooms and dormitories the world around. Nothing against the gaffers’ and grips’ taste and sense of style, as I am sure everyone can recall his or her first exposure to The Kiss, La Chat Noir, an unseasonable string of Christmas lights, beaded-curtain, or at least the touch of disen- chantment, because maybe you wanted to do the same, that these worthy works (testified by their infinite reproduction) displayed are not very original. I am grateful that my dear landlords equipped my work-week apartment with less conventional art work. It’s funny though, because if I look at the photo-safari souvenir of the elephants a bit askew, my eyes are drawn into a mirage of Gustav Klimt—something with the patination of the baby elephant’s ear.

habemus papem

Benedikt XVI has announced his retirement, a transition to a post in a local monastery of quiet mediation and prayer, fearing that the infirmities of old age are making him an ineffective leader. The office of Pope is an odd one for precedence, with all possible permutations discoverable—bad popes, short-lived papacies and even a lady pope, supposedly. It has been more than seven hundred years since the last Pope removed himself. Like Britain’s reigning queen, however, experience and living-memory are prevailing and formative factors, never mind that most of England’s heads-of-state were male and most occupants of the throne of Saint Peter were Italian. Familiarity, I think, does not out-strip all institutions.
There are some guardedly mysterious whispers about health and higher-level intrigues, whose speculation probably plague all such decision, but I do wonder if the seemingly responsible decision ought to be besmirched with conspiracy. Nearly eight years of services were ringing with speculation that the Pope was a place-holder, a concession to crown later a Latin pope again. If that were the case, I think Benedikt surprised detractors by hanging around this long and not just on balance being a bridge, and if anything, this controlled though unexpected stepping-down engages the Church all the more and makes people scrutinize the candidates in such a way as to make any larger agenda untenable.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

gale force

Der Spiegel’s English mirror presents an interesting compilation of interviews and analysis regarding just what exactly is stealing the wind of the sails of the renewable energy revolution, die Energiewende: namely subsidies (Subventionen).

Governmental support programmes (in Germany and elsewhere) for alternative power are being curtailed due to budget priorities, sometimes as a sort of inside-out Trojan Horse promising consumers that the policy redirection will help stifle rising home utilities prices. Such changes are enough to make investors, who would champion the building of new infrastructure and fund research skittish—though a really winning idea would succeed with or without government imposed controls, and probably in spite of bureaucratic support. The handicapping for wind turbines, however, is compounded by government subsidies geared in the opposite direction, meant to help wind-down the conventional powerhouses: support for coal and nuclear energy. The emergent and experimental technologies cannot compete and the markets react unkindly to these cross-currents.

fauxcabulary

The always entertaining Bob Canada’s Blog World presents another instalment of pharmaceutical barrel-scrapings for names from word-like formations not yet claimed by others in the trade, which sound deceptively like sophisticated vocabulary terms. The marketing departments for the drug companies seem to be reaching but I guess the possibilities are bottomless. My favourites, all names of real medicine, clinically tested and surely introduced to focus-groups to see how they liked the name, used in a sentence is:
Intuniv (Adjective.) Someone who easily grasps situations. “Joan was very intuniv and immediately sensed that her blind date was a repellent troll.”

Saturday, 9 February 2013

load-bearing month

Fixed and statutory holidays aside, I was wondering if the advance and regression of the Moon inevitably yoked Fasching, Carnival, Marti Gras with the Lunar New Year, but then I realised that this upcoming week, beginning with the ringing in of the Year of the Snake, is really chocked full of celebrations, with the feast day of Cædmon, the earliest Anglo-Saxon poet known by name, following on Monday, with the birthday of statesman Abraham Lincoln and the commemoration of Freedom to Marry, when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome back in 2004 directed staff to issue marriage licenses in a non-discriminatory manner, then on 12 February.

Wednesday (the 13th) marks the Roman feasts of Lupercalia (spring-cleaning and to encourage fertility, for which two billy-goats and a dog were sacrificed, and were call februa, and celebrants wore their skins) and Parentalia to honour one’s ancestors. Next is naturally St. Valentine’s Day, an international and thoroughly modern institution. 15 February marks Susan B. Anthony Day, American suffragette, and scads of other national observances. Friday marks Kim Jong-il’s birthday and the martyrdom of Elias and his Companions who sought to free and comfort Christians condemned to lives of slave labour in Roman mines during the persecution of Emperor Maximinus II. Saturday sees also the Roman holiday of Flamen Quirinalis (the first three months of the old Roman calendar did not really count, thus November for nine and December for ten, and all these holidays carried on for quite a while) who was considered the deification of statecraft, spear-wielder, and perhaps prototypical cousin to the image of Cupid. That’s quite a bit to pack into one week—not to be overshadowed by any one in particular and there seems to be a common thread running through them all.

fractuous

Some factions of the government in Germany want to selectively open up some regions to the controversial method of extracting natural gas and disinterring other useful resources from the ground, known as fracking—hydraulic fracturing, much to the dismay of members of the public and environmentalists, who fear that they are trying to rush through the policy-reprieve, untested and under-studied ahead of national elections in the Fall of this year. It sounds, unfortunately, like some pandering and ill-conceived rallying-cry, akin to “drill, baby, drill!” and not at all keeping with the move towards the greening of the dirty business of cleaner energy.
While critics of the procedure across the Atlantic where it is in wide use often cite real but possibly dramatized and diversionary effects, like giant, marauding sink-holes and increased seismic activity, German opponents point to fundamental concerns, like the potential for contaminating ecology and ground water, and well as the extraction being retrograde, releasing huge stores of carbon already successfully sequestered by Nature while engineers and scientists are struggling to find ways of keeping the current spillage in check and entombed. I wonder, too, whose backyard these operations will be in.

shoal

Ichthyologists have recently determined that social fish “smell” distinctly different to members of their own species according to maturity and size. Researchers believe that this mechanism developed in order that schools of fish could more quickly gather and sort themselves for protection, assuming a uniform front against predators, since from a fish-perspective, I imagine that it would be hard to judge size by sight. Schooling also helps with foraging for food and facilitates finding a suitable fish-mate.