Friday, 29 March 2013

just u.n. me or who is john galt?

In the tradition of On the Beach, Reds and other poignant but socially ambitious and uncomfortable cinematic works, my mother referred us to a long buried film made for television to which much talent was again given freely under the scripting of Rod Serling, of Twilight Zone fame, called A Carol for Another Christmas.

The story is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and champions the work of the United Nations over the contemporary stance of American foreign policy of selective isolation and demonization, retelling the consequences of hum-bug through an embittered industrialist who lost a son, killed in action, and has abandoned all hope for international cooperation or reconciliation. The Ghost of Christmas Future shows the father how prevailing attitudes will lead to a nuclear apocalypse not too far from the present. Written during the Vietnam War and Bay-of-Pigs invasion, it was hardly a time for inspiring optimism and going against the grain or scare and accommodating optimism, like those other forgotten but timely examples did, it was never aired again until this last Christmas. In times of sabre-rattling, I wonder if it was some sense of national pride or aversion to the sombreness that made these movies go away without honours and what statements rallied behind say about a civilisation.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

mixed metaphor

A brilliant and succinct commentary from Harvard Business Review is a sober reminder that a country and a corporation are not one in the same, just like with people. Bankruptcy is not something without precedence on a national level, as for businesses and households, but stretching, spindling the analogy, this neologism serves no good purpose. Instead the work of civics and the advocacy of the state becomes a nuisance to the metrics of recovery. Debts can be sovereign and governments are stewards of their people’s money and futures and not without exemption, but arrears do not accrue for a whole populace under the same model.

geselle, gestalt

Walking around the gorgeous neighbourhoods, I notice certain placards and think Notar, a notary-public, might be a good career-path for me since they always live in really posh places, it seems.

It made me think of a tale I heard once about a multi-lingual town in the former Sudetenland, explaining that a notary in Czech is called a notář and an emergency surgeon (ein Notarzt) was rendered the same way—pronounced like “note-arsch,” something essential but possibly not the wisest of job choices. Of course, a lot of other professionals have impressive, high-rent haunts. A new, maybe a trendy example that I came across was a practice specializing in oranisational—corporate psychology. It was a prime location to hang one’s sign and I really liked the symbolism. I wonder if this icon is a standard sign-post for such a collective and whom this practice consults for.

Monday, 25 March 2013

hypnos

While I fully believe that there are many abiding mysteries, I don’t often heed my own dreams. Forgettable brilliance is just that—I reason, and probably indicative of the dose of self-therapy, the stepping back that one needs or doesn’t need at the time and conducted in a nebulous way, behind the scenes. I indulged a strange succession of dreams, however, recently, relaxed and running some onerous administrative tasks on my computer, including defragmenting the hard-drive.

Though I was not exactly upset to let the process run its course, I recall a complicated heap of dreams, trying to sort out priorities and reassignments and quickly worked out what was really important. Maybe I was in danger of losing sight of the bigger picture. The next evening, I also retired early, but was surprised to experience a continuation, after a fashion. The affinity and epiphany, of course, fades, but it did seem the very antithesis of the prior night’s frenetic categorization, including former landlords, alternate routes hither and thither (with a strange déjà vu that only occurs in dream-time—best recalling dreams within dreams) and the realization that I do sometimes dream in German—not my native language, as evinced by a talking dog, who spoke in English and wanted to monopolize the conservation or at least make it worth the effort. I wonder if practicing self-hypnosis (though it is more like just being aware that it exists), however imperfectly and lazily, has anything to do with the vividness and memory. I want this unusually intrusive unconsciousness to carry on as more than just an administrative task.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

charter

Although influence-peddling and lobbying is no stranger to modern-day political syndicates, it is interesting how this sometimes shadowy and sometimes blatant phenomenon has not had a direct line of succession and has historically enjoyed many different levels of tolerance.

Existing within quite another framework than contemporary industry pressures, perhaps the most comprehension template was an entity known as the Dutch East India Company (Vereenige Oost-Indische Compagnie). The mission was established at the beginning of the seventeenth century, in the midst of the Golden Age of Exploration and the colonial movement, with the charge to manage trade between the Netherlands and the Far East. The company, granted the powers of a sovereign nation, acted as an ombudsman, held a monopoly on commerce, though facing the competition of other equally constituted mercenaries, for nearly two centuries, through negotiating treaties, minting money, raising and razing cities and establish justice systems.
While the company’s most famous exploits concerned the spice-trade, they were also responsible for introducing tulips from Turkey to Europe, which lead to the creation of the world’s first stock-market and first economic bubble and subsequent crash. Many battles ensued among these competing companies, whom all European powers were eager to proxy, and the exploits of colonialism propagated much suffering for the colonialized. Business further diversified to coffee, textiles and china, and late in its career, the Dutch East India Company took on the role of creating and regulating a network among Asian countries, which did not exist beforehand. Businesses are not given such de facto powers any longer, but I wonder if the environment is not so different, and whether sanctioned or permitted, encouraged, if industry has the largess to proceed unchallenged. Do you think it’s better to suffer liberal but defined powers or face a technocracy that respects none?

fascinating rhythm or third eye blind

I regret that I don’t always make more time to explore the missives that I subscribed to from the AlterNet media group. There’s grey area that forms when one is more pressed for time that blurs spam with an interest that’s been backlogged. These headlines are anything but, and when I do take the time to really read beyond them, I always find something interesting, presented in a way that’s not preachy or esoteric—not that there is anything wrong with preachy or esoteric and I am sure that both adherents and detractors would take exception with those terms.

One recent engrossing example was an article on the not fully understood organ that sits in our brain, the pineal gland. Its always-on function seems to be regulating our sleep- and wake-cycles, maintaining a physical connection with that other always-on organ, the brain—or more philosophically, the mind. The pineal gland, accorded much more scientific and spiritual notice by the Ancients up through the Renaissance and was really regarded as a third-eye, however, also ekes out a complex chemical cocktail for the body, which no one really fully appreciates. Whatever this vestigial eye might see, conscientious modern-day thinkers believe that maybe obscuring its vision is possibly responsible for a whole host of contemporary and near-sighted ills.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

life in the biq house or cold water flat

The ex-patriot daily, the local (original story not there but visit the German daily), brings coverage of an interesting experiment in Passivhausing from the City of Hamburg. The two sides of the structure, called the Bio Intelligence Quotient (BIQ) Haus, with the greatest exposure to the sun have a facade comprised of algae encased in a thin transparent tank of flowing water. The bio-reactive facade will allow energy produced through photosynthesis to be harvested, in the form of biomass, to produce more than enough natural gas to heat the building’s fifteen units.
The BIQ experiment represents only one of several innovative designs set to debut in the Hamburg neighbourhood Wilhelmsburg along the wharves. It’s pretty neat that this new concept of reducing one’s ecological footprint premieres together with a calendar of holidays celebrating sustainability and the environment, and reminding us how each of us can help, in big and in modest ways.

recall-roster

Der Spiegel’s International Desk reports that back in late 2012, an anonymous researcher set out to take a roll-call, a secret census of the public internet worldwide.

No one had been able to accurately gauge the volume of world-wide-web activity beforehand, and the demographics of this convert door-to-door poll probably can never be studied in a meaningful way, since the results were obtained illegally. Unlike WiFi snooping scandals, the hacker pinged routers to illicit a response, in much the same way as one would launch a denial of service attack but without the ill-intent and for counting only.
After establishing dialogues with some 450, 000 server farms, the hacker’s creation, named Carna Botnet (after the Roman goddess of health, internal organs, hinges and stoops) was able to propagate itself further and shake hands with some 2.3 billion active internet protocol addresses. This ease of access was quite surprising and the census project turned unexpectedly into an industry warning about the robustness of security and systemic vulnerabilities. There probably will not be another such screen-capture, snapshot of the internet’s denizens but it was nonetheless exhilarating to be included in something benign that showed how fast the on-line world is growing.

hippity-hoppity


Friday, 22 March 2013

brinksmanship or no quarter

On the surface of things, the evolving situation in Cyprus’ finances does not seem to make complete sense. There was originally a strange sort stoical solidarity as the idea of levying a deposit tax as collateral against the Euro-Group’s line of credit from the island’s government but public outrage and fears of precipitating such seizures ultimately led to the collapse in negotiations. Presently, the Cypriots look poised to renege on the terms of this rescue package, and the EU looks willing to cut its losses, recognizing the grave realities of a marshal-economy. The transformation was quick, from darling of people seeking out a safe berth for the money to anathema, over-exposed—though fundamentally, the shenanigans were no different than what when on in other crisis lands, or for that matter, what is still tolerable, attractive about other safe harbours, like Luxembourg or the Channel Islands.

Further, that stoicism belied a calmness, which was not entirely unheard over the uproar, with the church offering certain securities and pawning pension funds. The Euro-Group rejected these avenues, which seem to be no longer options for the Cypriot administration either, as untenable and just setting up the country for a deferred failure with an unsustainable burden of debt, as well as intervention by the Russians. Though there may be some interest not brought openly to the bargaining-table, Russia seems to be snubbing Cyprus, even with its untapped natural gas reserves, and will let the banking system fail, despite standing to lose a lot of private money and its chief correspondent bank for clearing its transactions with Europe. To be sure, it’s chaotic and the most robust economist probably could not deftly navigate these waters, but things just stopped making sense. It almost seems like warfare-by-proxy, with vested interests in seeing the EU experiment crumble. I suppose too that as the crises initially began to unravel, for example, with the real-estate bubble in Ireland or Spain or the overvaluing of the Swiss franc, could also be shown in the harsh light of conspiracy. Perhaps, hopefully, Cyprus can emerge from this dilemma, bravely and ultimately stronger, like Iceland has done.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

an embarrassment of riches

The latest reconnaissance from the superb BLDRBLOG documents the recent trophies of an internet entrepreneur, recovering the artefacts of the Apollo mission to the Moon—sunk and a repurposed as components of a natural environment, and poses the interesting question if such exploits and adventures will become signature for the fabulously wealthy—at least from those with a flair for conquests. Mounting the highest mountains, delving the deepest oceans, and even prospecting asteroids could become serious attractions, like record-setting feats gone unbroken since the Machine-Age. I just hope that the endowed buccaneers choose good and responsible investments for their exploits, legacy and a damaging spirit of competition does not arise.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

jail-break, jail-bait

While most conversations about the architecture of Digital Rights Management (DRM, sometimes referred to as Digital Restriction Management) tend to focus the on fact that such platforms are an unwieldy punishment, which does not deter piracy, yields a bunch of play-devices that become quickly incompatible and even stifles creativity.

The happy mutants at Boing Boing share a surprisingly direct confession that this convoluted legislation on media is fundamentally flawed by design. In essence, the whole rationale behind DRM is to give proprietary rights holders leverage over, by analogy, philharmonics, operas, playhouses, the makers of phonographs, video cassette recorders and their more modern avatars, to adhere to the content licensees’ rules or risk facing a quickly creeping obsolesce. The efficacy of the methods do not matter, since the media conglomerates are drafting the laws as they go along and there is the impression of invention openness encroaching.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

telomere

Biologists are at the verge of an important decision with technical hurdles toppled when it comes to the matter of de-extinctionNational Geographic covers this point of departure in a quite thoughtful manner, not dismissing the question of playing God, but positing that there is an ethical imperative to restore the individual species, and by extension the ecological diversity, that humans drove to extinction.
The dodo, passenger pigeon and even the woolly mammoth are poster-children representing many more creatures no longer around because of our activities, and scientists are quickly gaining the means to bring them back. What do you think? Are we obligated to make Nature whole again, or does our capacity to raise the dead cheapen our overall sense of stewardship and respect? Does Nature coldly absorb its losses quickly and move on, leaving no place for failed experiments? Our fault or not, since we are unable to operate outside of that broader context, should we be working to re-introduce some species? Ignoring individual ingenuity is something done at great peril and surely there is something to glean from every success and cul-de-sac. It was an unpopular argument when some ecologists advocated for a giant squid over a giant panda as a symbol for conservation efforts, since no one wants to lose the latter, but it was a judgement on our priorities.

the rites of spring or where the wild things are

As Winter looks to be coming to an end in earnest, photographer Charles Fréger shares his sociology project of documenting ritual traditions and variations across nineteen countries in Europe, capturing the costumes and customs put on in order to coax in brighter days. These ceremonies date from pre-history and have continued uninterrupted, even in the midst of thoroughly modern Europe.

Monday, 18 March 2013

and that’s a pretty nice hair cut—charge it like a puzzle, hit men wearing muzzles

Oh dear—this is a potentially disturbing development that is making international markets anxious as well as any and every John Q. Public, Max Mustermann, or Τάδε Ταδόπουλος who’ve brooded any nest-egg. In exchange for a ten-billion euro lifeline to save the country from insolvency, banking and finance accounting for a large proportion of the island nation’s economy, European Union finance ministers are demanding a percentage of the savings deposits of Cypriot citizens.

The government of Cyprus supports this hair cut, which would excise a minimum of a three percent from all accounts. Despite insistence that such an arrangement exceptional and not precedent-setting, with Germany trying to distance itself from the conditions of the swap and Britain going so far as pledging to reimburse the losses incurred by her subjects stationed there as a result of the decision, many are growing nervous about their stashes, however it’s kept. Do you think a move like this opens up the possibility for shearing assets from private people, small-holders but share-holders, nonetheless? Or might having savers participate in the bail-out might inspire overall more pragmatism?  It is happening too often lately, but when decisions and support fail to abide by economic sense (I can’t imagine how the reactions and distress in the streets and in the bourses was unexpected), one should always follow the money and see who stands to gain, and perhaps not ultimately, from this deal.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

fantastic voyage or doctor inchworm, i presume?

The ever excellent BLDGBLOG reports on an RD project from the laboratories of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, experimenting with probes called mesh-worms whose motors are driven by a simple yet effective principle of expansion and contraction.

A microscopic lattice housing detectors and potentially a payload of metal alloyed just by a tiny pulse to raise the temperature a bit and let it relax back into its unexcited state to dutifully and tirelessly burrow and creep forward through very tight environments. Not only could this worm go spelunking and sound out more human-sized routes, explore the palimpsest of old architecture, pick locks and crack safe, such a probe could also patrol one’s insides for potential trouble spots and delivering a consignment of medicine—or poison, I suppose, as creepy-crawly assassins. Over-zealous nanotechnology or designer viruses have not yet taken over, but good-judgment does not always prevail. What do you think? Is this the realization of an unflagging panacea or more fodder for invasion and misuse?

parabolic or sky-tree

H and I were in the Taunus recently and afforded a rather close-up view of one of the other-worldly structures, a television tower, that one generally just sees from a great distance and in passing, are usually perched on high, remote promontories like a bucket-brigade of relays.

With satellite cities and other ad hoc methods so prevalent, I wondered if such landmarks were not relics of an older age. I remember being amazing with the installation my uncle assembled in his backyard, to liberate his family from cable television and the paucity of broadcast channels, and though much smaller and subject to some regulation (and with growing alternatives), I thought the trend just continued a-pace.

I was puzzled with the recently finished superlative in Japan, the landmark Tokyo Sky-Tree, a broadcasting tower, and second tallest manmade structure in the world. Being number-one is a very transitive and sometimes subjective thing to achieve, for however long one can hold the title—and it was not a cathedral, after all, one of the more tenacious title-holders. I learned, however, more than just feeding signals to car radios, these towers are still quite functional, thanks in part to an evolving middle-manship when it comes to the airwaves.  Transponders originally rose above the landscape to surmount natural obstacles, but high-rises and the interference from climbing electronic smog create new reasons to take a commanding position.  I am sure such a view of the city below is worth the effort as well.

radiant baby

 This happy child’s chair, I think, is a fitting homage to social activist and artist Keith Haring. There are quite a lot of memorials dedicated to Haring, who passed away in 1990, and his ideas—plus numerous legacies and influences in the world of pop art, music—helping create Madonna’s signature look, painting Grace Jones and designing the set for Solid Gold, and gave us universally recognized symbols of awareness and affirming joy.

I always think about Haring’s artwork on my way out the door, my apartment located above a cash- and-carry (Selbst- abholung) bedding chain. At first, I went a little negative, thinking that the company adopted this distinctive symbol without appreciation but realized that I could be wrong.  I wonder if their choice of logos had anything to do with making a stand or a statement.

snow patrol

Just when we thought the taunting series of reprieves and relieving afternoons of sunny weather signaled the onset of Spring, it started snowing again. It seemed more transfiguring, however, this time after the hopeful breaks in the weather, thinking each blast was one final assertion from a very stubborn and gloomy Winter, a vow to return despite our best efforts to throw Nature out of balance. This last snow-ball fight may be an indication that we are instead taunting the Seasons and more unseasonableness is on order.
This strange ribbon effect traced along the metal flag poles looks like the icing of thaw and a place where the snowflakes can stick. It was not the hoisting strings, like I first thought but I guess the trail of a drip.  I was braving the uncertain weather in search of a flea-market, just on the edge between what’s comfortably reached on foot (though not in this slush) and what might justify the bother of driving (in this slush).
Quite a few others agreed that it was worth dragging out their belongings for this social-hour, under a covered parking-lot. I found a few treasures, including this heavy and solid copper watering can with a narrow spout for the delicate jobs, and this teak glasses rest fashioned like a nose and mouth. I think it’s Danish.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

cracker-jack

I’ve always thought that candies, like colas (and more adult beverages too), attain this strange sort of nostalgic immortality and despite insolvency, changing tastes, and increasing competition seem to remain on-offer, even if in a subdued, bottom-shelf sort of way.

Dots, Tab, Shasta, the medleys of grab-bag treats with half-forgotten names can be had with a little intentional departure from the latest fads and reminiscing. I guess I don’t have any such cravings myself but I appreciate the traditions and cult status surely. There were two news items in the past few days that caused me to wonder about our treat icons, mascots, really, apart from whatever chemical concoction is the delivery vehicle. Due to regulation that prohibited the inclusion of “non-nutritive” items within food (and I guessed it was a more recent restriction to protect young children from swallowing their prize inadvertently), German Kinder Überraschung chocolate eggs were considered contraband in the US.
Disa- ppointingly, the product, which side-steps the arcane proscription by designing the eggs to be split apart and isolating the prize inside with a protective membrane so no one could choke on it by accident, is not from the same makers and surely won’t have that Dyson’s Shell made with the same quality. The fact that the American producers include “Choco” as part of their name makes me fear that the quotation marks are deserved. I do wonder what nutritive content might be encased in chocolate, but nonetheless, the carapace is important. The other story concerned the reanimation of the Twinkie planned by Hostess’ successor company. While it is surely hard to keep an incorruptible, indestructible snack off the shelves, I wonder if for even the most avid fans whether this is a positive development, since some experiments in should maybe be allowed to expire gracefully.

castings

There is an entire pool at Flickr dedicated to artistic and interesting manhole covers. Neat-o-rama curated a little preview. Japan seems to have some of the more unique and elaborate examples and there is a lot to discover from all over the world, but I am ever excited to go on an urban safari through a new German community and collect more local symbols and crests.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

schuldenbremse

While the slow but inevitable train-wreck of the US economy lurches past more and more whistle-stops with the strange sort of glee of acceptance, and the parliamentarians of the EU’s financial agenda, happy to be upstaged by their American cousins, reflect on how to mitigate national austerities fairly amongst its dues-paying members, Germany has with some quiet deliberation and luxury of discipline has achieved—projected at least, a terrain of a balanced budget. This comes some two years ahead of schedule after the 2009 passage, incorporation into the Basic Law (Gründgesetz) of a structurally reined in fiscal plan. Germany would have been closer to its goal but will maintain its pledge to the European emergency bail-out fund. Debt-holdings are still relatively high but so too conditions that allow a diversified portfolio, which seems kind of naïve or smug like a narrative from a text-book recently made irrelevant. Such an accomplishment is anomalous but definitely not something outmoded.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

qwertz or lölly, lölly, lölly get your umlauts here

I recall being quite red-faced in college when a professor, exasperated, asked why on earth I would spell Goethe’s name with an ö. “I bet it’s just because you figured how to do that with your word-processor.”

Well, yes— technology barely had a foothold back then, and I thought at the time that all instances of oe, in German words, had to be because the type-setter either was not able or did not know how to create an umlaut. In English, they are still a rare enough occurrence to elide over quick, but I detest restoring to rendering really common German words as fuer or ueber or oeffen. It’s just not aesthetically pleasing—or seeing my address displayed to me on some websites with a bunch of garbled characters, like it’s a cuss, because the platform can’t handle a few exotic diereses. If your keyboard does not have the right keys for it, one can in Windows use the following short-cuts, depressing ALT plus:

Ä = 0196      ä=0228
Ë = 0203      ë=0235
Ï = 0207       ï=0239
Ö = 0214     ö=0246
Ü=0220       ü=0252
Ÿ=0178       ÿ=0255


On an Apple platform, it’s a bit more intuitive, just taking the Option key—or on a touch pad, just depressing the letter for a bit longer. For script, it’s the letter (Capitalized or lower-case) and uml(aut) preceded by an ampersand.
There is, however, the potential for minor irritation with spacing and kerning, even in the Sprachraüme, including Turkish, that use such accent marks. One particular Autobahn sign, which I pass on my way home, employees this funny, glaring non-standard g in order to accommodate Umlauten above and below. One would think that Germans could improve on this layout. Sometimes one finds stylized typefaces that minimize these effects without detracting from the sound or meaning imparted with vertical or embedded dots. If there’s ever celebrities or world-leaders with a lot of umlauts to their names, some clever person should make such a standard alphabet for newsprint and make it freely available. If I am able to figure it out, I will surely share.

curb-side service or scavenger-hunt

There has been quite a preponderance of discarded television sets throughout the city recently, just left on the curb-side, which does not quite seem in keeping with German laws governing electronic trash, so I thought that there was some kind of cathode-ray drive. Such a call, however, did not seem forthcoming, as I noticed that the tv’s were not disappeared right away, but lain and were re-shuffled for weeks.
Some enterprising professionals, I thought, might be able to harvest the components and scrap a significant profit, I thought, but then wondered if such expansive and Turing-complete progenitors, less pressured by a drive for miniaturization were themselves rife for prospecting and reclamation. I’m not sure if this is the case, or whether industry is truly prepared for its onion-skin of obsolescence and yet could suffer any takers. Not everyone could safely harvest the metallurgic legacy that appears in the trash, nor should they try. Vertical living affords an important level of anonymity, as well, and maybe more ought to be done to incentivize an unpopular breed of backwardness.

Monday, 11 March 2013

the life of pi

At some elusive yet definitive point on Thursday afternoon, for some blurred fraction of a second, just before school is dismissed, time will be aligned with Π, the fixed ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

Pi—pronounced pee and not pie by the Greeks, and corresponds to the 14th day of March and then the Pi moment comes (in military time) at some instant in the afternoon, an exact, though endless, star-date. Pi Day coincidentally also marks the birthday of Albert Einstein. In case you miss it—or don’t care for the switching between the month-day-hours conventions, there’s a second chance later in the summer, though not to be confused, known as Pi Approximation Day, 22nd July, in deference to the improper fraction sometimes used to represent the ratio. The seventh of October ought to be designated as World Ocean Day. It would be strange if we counted, based our number system, not just on the commutable properties of maths but also with landmarks of constants—one, natural logarithm, pi, etc. Could we have found the numbers of physics and nature without having first devised the means to number things for our own convenience?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

surf and turf or pyroplastic treats

Our neighbours most always holiday in the Canary Islands and bring us little souvenirs (Mitbringseln). Knowing not very much about Tenerife, one of the main islands, I was sort of guilty of dismissing it as a destination that did not require an excess of creativity, especially in succession, and maybe a sort of rugged and isolated place—those sort of resorts duplicated inland and within easy reach with the peaks and lakes that one can see just outside of the window at home but won’t venture out to see even in the best weather but will brave reliably wechselhaft oceanic conditions and go out to see the grey just because one is on vacation. We’ll do that as well, so I am not judging my neighbours’ sense of adventure or taste.
The latest gift, however, of Los Piedras del Teide (Teide Stones) encouraged me to investigate. Despite the volcanic peak on the cover, it took me some research to realize that that the chocolate covered almonds were supposed to represent the pyroplastic blasts of this still active volcanic peak. It turns out that this projection is the third highest volcano on earth and dominates a land rich in outstanding natural beauty and a unique aboriginal culture, the Guanches, who revered this landmark like the Greeks their Mt. Olympus. Pico Teide was considered the pillar that held up the heavens, after its people saw the loss of one of their patron gods of light and magic was captured by their devil, Guayota, represented, in the main, by a black dog, from which the archipelago gets its name, and held captive here. They appealed to the ruler of the gods for intervention, Achamán, who obliged by fixing their cosmos to this rock, trapping the devil underneath. In modern times, the molten and other-worldly landscape has been used extensively as proving-grounds for scientists preparing for Martian exploration. It is pretty keen when one can learn something from a souvenir and bring a place into the foreground.

pope trope

The special chimney has been hoisted above the terra-cotta roof of the Sistine Chapel, the deliberation floor for some 115 cardinals, to proclaim to a watching-world their consensus or failure.

Though the Church leaders are now muzzled from talking to the press, there is much speculation about those considered papabile, some are suggesting that the time is right for a reformer, a manger of the faith and not just a theological defender with a few candidates from outside the bounds of the Old World. With or without the media-blackout, however, the ranks trying to apply a political template to the process know the members of the conclave quite well, and considering the change in Church suffrage, instituted not too long ago by Pope John Paul II, which only allows bishops under eighty years of age to vote (excluding some 35 grey-eminences from other arch-dioceses)—directly at least, all those to cast a ballot were appointed either by the Pope Emeritus or his predecessor, and possibly unlikely to depart far from the ideologies that elevated them—at least not in any way to achieve a consensus. This is a level above mundane politics, despite who might try to run interference. What do you think the outcome will be?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

paved with good intentions

As the tenth anni- versary—and a decade on, it’s getting a little hard to remember that there was a time without unending struggle let alone envisioning it will come to an end but I think no one who was beating those drums wanted or expected the consequences wrought, of the US invasion of Iraq, author and former diplomat Peter van Buren is sharing his experiences and assessment of how the fronts and the genuine aspirations of Pax Americana demonstrated (gradually, reluctantly and still in denial for many) that the cavalry, the crusaders were themselves the greatest sources of strife and ruin for the region and beyond.
From potemkin humanitarian gestures that were detached from reality and insult to the basic needs of a war-torn population, stark disregard or ignorance of the counter-balances of power being sloppily removed, to squandered opportunities for promoting real concord—not to mention all the death and destruction in vain and demonizing a culture and religion to the whole of the Western civilization, van Buren tries to illustrate how the best intentions rang hollow, if not naïvely so.
One can argue that simple swagger and hectoring cannot account for all the misadventures and when things stop making sense, one ought to follow the money. That is an important consideration and I am sure there’s more than a kernel of greed behind a lot of the US overtures for freedom and democracy, but I do not believe it was ever the objective (well-meaning or not, which I tend to think on the levels that made the decisions) to fold the punished and enfeebled hand of the US out of the round of chaos they created. The entanglement—probably with roots reaching back several decades, is too big to bow out of gracefully and I am afraid that the withdrawal will be painfully stubborn for all involved.

liartown, USA and codename: SPENCH

The happy seekers at Boing Boing share a wonderful Tumblr cascade (not necessarily safe or appropriate for work or people without a sense of humour that ranges from crass to subtle) from Sean Tejaratchi whose eclectic genius for mashups and original juxtaposition creates some very funny reinterpretations.

I especially like some of his re-imagined signage, animal memes and, further back in the archives, movie-teasers and television series, like Marple after Dark and Gypsy Cop. It’s been said that the Tumblr platform is a backlash against the social, over-exposed blog, and while niche audiences entice further exploration, some things are definitely for sharing.


sampo

Reexamining the contents of old shipwrecks may be lending credence to ancient Nordic legends of a mystical stone, claimed to have the properties of revealing the angle of the Sun even under cloudy conditions, and thus direction for sea-navigation. A certain variety of crystals, called Icelandic spar, is common among the manifests of sunken ships and researchers have re-discovered that the crystals can be used to reveal the direction of weak and scattered rays of light, and thus bearing and course, if one applies the proper triangulation to correct for the polarization-effect. Such a tool (Zaubergerät) could have been instrumental in the Norwegian Vikings reaching North America, centuries before other European explorers and centuries before the invention of the magnetic compass, navigating stormy seas with seasons of short hours of daylight.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

stella! or fiat means of payment

The EU monetary union and its currency, the euro, has deeper roots, reaching back to the nineteenth century with attendant problems and complications, and was directly inspired by a earlier coalition by the name of the Latin Monetary Union. Founding members Switzerland, Italy, France and Belgium decided in 1865 to tether their respective national coinage to a certain ratio of silver redeemable in gold, which was legal tender among all members.

Later Venezuela, Spain, Greece, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Romania, Bulgaria and the Holy Sea joined—with even the United States of America seriously considering taking part in the grand experiment. I never realized that the national pride of the franc, peso, drachma and mark was not so long-lived and had been sublimed before. H told me about this earlier attempt but I never knew what the union was called. The currency, however, had barely overcome many structural challenges before its dissolution during the inter-bellum years. The ultimate failure was due, in the main, to an institutionalized practice of and market for debasing. Though the coin’s face value was honoured universally, some mints were debasing their coins (some of the usual suspects were the greatest offenders), using less precious-metal content than prescribed. Other opportunists, notably the Germans, took advantage of this differential in specie, exchanging coins from countries out of compliance for more valuable bullion. By the same reasoning contemporarily if one could have all of one’s wealth expressed with pennies and had a buyer for the zinc and copper, one could see the value almost double. Despite all its failures at conception, the Latin Monetary Union had a long run and I wonder what lessons are applicable to the current situation.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

street smarts

Not to disparage conventional wisdom since there is much to be culled from a rare quality called common-sense and knowing better, but folk-neuroscience has practically invaded all aspects of public dialogue and holds up a very inaccurate but tantalizing fun-house mirror to ourselves.

Stock phrases and jargon, I think, are good vehicles for a whole host of excuses that prompt us to look in possibly the wrong direction. Self- assessments are imbued with the stuff of expediency, culture, what’s psychologically plausible and stereotype, and then become a template applied to the inner-workings of others and rarely, ironically to ourselves. It is a positive development that we can defer to our brains as captains of our destinies but more understanding, as social and political animals, is needed before we can really apply these sort judgments for anyone.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

heart on your sleeve or windowpane

While I want to believe that the public, early-adopter, the technocrati, and developers have considered how convenience and novelty are drives easily deputized as the stuff of spies and snitches, but although I was not overly fond of the idea of the normalization of wearing certain blinders that kept one focused on something other than the here and now from a stand point of accelerating psychological concerns, I certainly did not extrapolate any higher-order concerns. All forms of surveillance and reconnaissance are already possible, of course, via a variety of measures which do not always talk to one another (this inability to communicate, I think, keeps a lot of us employed as interpreters, incidentally), but what implications are there to actually dispatching willing legions of monitors, eager (or at least persuadably so) to archive the whole of their experience without an editor or intermediary?

Monday, 4 March 2013

unmarked white van or deppenapostroph

Usually I am not one to rise above mild amusement and not call unnecessary use of quotation marks when I see them used liberally on signage (although there appears to be a certain fondness for this practice in Germany). When I see this superfluous punctuation I want to stoop and gesture and make those air apostrophes. I am not addressing that other practice that’s a terribly prevalent butchering of the genitive case—Gertie’s Pilsstube is more often seen than the correct Gerties.

There’s a rather non-descript service vehicle that I see around the neighbourhood (incidentally, I think unmarked white vans would be a great name for any entrepreneurial enterprise) with the decals along the side for ,,ROBERT” interior construction (Innen- und ausbau). I would never decry this one, since I later realized that “Robert” was most certainly the quite competent handy-man who re-did my little workweek apartment, the floors and all, by surprise. Perhaps ,,ROBERT” is some attempt at cultural integration or some byzantine regulatory requirement for truth in advertising. If it is really the service vehicle of Roberto, that don’t know but I try not to be one to police grammar and punctuation, since I know I have a lot of faults of my own. I tend to be hyphenation-happy, for one.
I do believe that there is room for license, according to the Army book of style, there are actual rules, which cascade out like poetry or that Monty Python skit about woody words. One should omit the hyphen when words appear in regular order and the omission causes no confusion in sound or meaning: banking hours, blood pressure, book value, census taker, life cycle, living costs, mountain laurel, palm oil, patent right, real estate, time frame, violin teacher. Well, I want to connect all of these with a dash. Next, one should compound two or more words to express an idea that would not be as clearly expressed in separate words, as in: bookkeeping, follow-on, forget-me-not, indepth, in-house, gentlemen, man-hour, man-year, newsprint, offload, railcar, right-of-way, yearend. Restraint should be exercised in forming unnecessary combinations of words used in normal sequence: atomic energy power, child welfare plan, civil service examination, income tax form, parcel post delivery, per capita expenditure, real estate tax, social security pension, soil conservation measures, special delivery mail. I don’t know about all of that. It seems to me like something that someone saw on a sign once and took to heart.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

mcdoof

The latest cover and theme of Der Spiegel magazine (which I think though available on-line a perhaps regaled with more premium advertizing space will never be something out-of-print or solely archived in waiting-rooms) really poses a message to consider, especially taking into account how convenience foods are engineered for endurance.

 Maybe such an EU-style Surgeon General’s warning writ-large is needed. Taste and texture conspire for something that is not particularly memorable for the palette, lest one gets too inured to it, something unlike a very good meal that would be unseemly nonetheless to repeat too soon. This sort of subliminal, proletariat appeal is by design and a wonder of marketing and promotion, supported by an army food-hacks and production short-cuts. The fast-food industry and of course other addictive substances are able to buck the justification that “but I had Chinese for lunch” or “Greek just on Tuesday.” It is becoming harder and harder, however, to position oneself in a landscape to honestly choose and avoid the underlying staples.

global hawk or pretty bird

There’s a very blurry line between hobby helicopters and aerial surveillance drones, and I fear that government agencies, wanting to protect their assets and bailiwick will probably begin severely restricting what hobbyists can and can’t do. Just as much as there is an already growing public resistance to and fear of sky-spying, home-made drones could be easily deployed as Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots to jam the airspace. Technology can be a kill-joy and make things quickly accelerate.

Watching a demonstration video about a local club that builds and flies these kit vehicles, and how they navigate and stay oriented with the help of GPS, it all of a sudden became clear to me that the EU project to build a separate, parallel global positioning satellite array, Galileo, was not just a prestige project or a waste of money (the world’s current GPS telemetry provider is owned by the militaries of the US, Russia and China and although made available to the public for civilian use, could be switched off at any time). The European GPS is not being built for the benefit of toy helicopter enthusiasts or vacationers that might get lost along the way to their destinations but I guess for a strategic reality that might see the satellite signals cut off in order to stop rogue and rebel and recreation from interfering with the business of scouting. I wonder, however, if the dreary imaginations of the people who plan for these contingencies also consider that guidance is adaptive and there are plenty of other less lofty landmarks to go by.