Sunday, 30 June 2013

speaking with forked-tongue

Well, that escalated quickly. In the latest revelations to come out of the NSA scandal, it has been revealed that not only does the American intelligence service snoop on German communications to a much higher degree, the NSA has also utilized America's outposts, within and without, to spy in the old-fashioned sense on European Union institutions.
Not only were the diplomatic safeguards of EU business violated to conduct in the US subject to bugging but also back at home in Brussels by safe-houses within the neighbouring American controlled portions of the NATO Supreme Command. It would not be surprising if all such outposts, the lingering bases and consulates, were not retrofitted for the same purpose, since the attitudes of younger and older veterans remain, Cold War thinking and opinions that judge Germany's immigration policy as too liberal and too forgiving and made the country the locus of the 9/11 terror attacks in some minds. The spying on the EU and Germany cumulatively, however, suggests that America wants to head-off more than terror and anticipate policy and business changes, especially taking into account where such listening-posts are situated. Such a valuable upper-hand is not easily surrendered, despite the shrinking footprint of occupation and its public rationale for staying.

sunday drive: a jury of one's peers or next exit

Seeing that there was going to be a fleamarket in the town of Linsengericht on the way back to my workweek apartment, I decided to stop and find out what there was to discover in that place with the funny name.

Although the name probably refers to a “dish of lentils” like the biblical cookbook for surviving in the wilderness, I had heard of medieval ad hoc tribunals held in other towns and villages in this area in groves—called Zentgericht—and there's another place not far from here called Freigericht, which I don't think suggests something not a la carte. So I took Gericht for its other meaning, court, as in one has the right to trial by jury of one's lentils.
The fleamarket was a sad affair and it seemed that all roads led out of town and to the more picturesque city of Gelnhausen—I did not try very hard and I apologize to the Linsengerichters for not finding all what their town had to offer.
Discouraged I returned to the Autobahn but got off again at the next exit to marvel at Burg Ronneburg, dominating the gently ascending foothills that it lends its name to. The castle, first documented in 1231, played an important role in the protestant reformation for the region but also hosted the persecuted from other confessions, and ownership is still being swapped among royal houses to this day. Next time passing by, I think that this is another place for H and I to explore together.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

the whole point of a doomsday machine is lost...if you keep it a secret

While there is word that US government computer systems are set on blocking access to this newspaper for fear that soldiers and bureaucrats might become a bit more informed or inadvertently participate in spillage (network-hygiene, it's called), undeterred by this potential loss of readership, the Guardian is reporting on how the former number-two in rank of the US Army leaked to journalists the methodologies behind an open-secret, admitting that the American cyber-offensive colluded with Israeli forces in order to sabotage Iran's nuclear programme.

To show that Justice can be a slow and deliberative process for one's own, these events first unfolded in 2010. This disclosure, unsourced beforehand, was a major scandal for both prosecuting governments, although all involved employed some very bellicose rhetoric—regardless what was behind the words, and instigated a regular witch-hunt among the press-corps and individual reporters were harassed with less indiscriminate and sweeping (not protected by the herd for protecting their sources) tactics in retaliation. These heavy-handed techniques, trying to out the sieve, resulted in a pointed diminishing of US standing in the eyes of the rest of the world in terms of press freedoms and transparency. Intelligence did not trickle down but came in a torrent from the top of the Pentagon, it seems. Deciding autonomously to share manoeuvres is of course a perilous and potential compromising choice, and not without the hubris that one sees the big picture, but the officer's rationale, while not all would agree it was right or sound, held that such weapons were not very useful as a deterrent if such abilities are kept incognito.

neudeutsche or bahnglisch

Sometimes I get very frustrated, after trying to formulate how to translate something in my head, only to have it paraphrased by a native speaker as, “Ja—das Meeting wรผrde gecanceled.” Aber hatte ich schon das Satz gegoogled...
There was initiative taking place in the hallowed halls of the national German railway network, die Deutsche Bahn, to standardize signage and spoken terminology, insisting on consistency for in-house jargon on the pain of being written-up and for dealing with the public, to cater to international travelers with a mix of English and German, which seems to play out as a disservice to speakers of either or both languages. First, there was the newly labelled ,,Counters” as opposed to Schalter or Theke and ,,Service Points” are something different—Auskunft spots, I suppose but guests in the train station were put in a position to guess. There are hybrids like ,,Ausgang – City,” exit to the Stadt or complete inventions like Rail&Fly. Fortunately, the ministry of transportation is reclaiming much of this pidgin language and has ordered the reversion to proper German and less pseudo-English phrases. Not juried by linguists, I suspect, this constructed language was rife with inconsistencies and a source of confusion but it was interesting nonetheless to see how different conceptions, under the lesson of your grammar called “At the train-station,” were presented and understood.

the long now or end-station mellrichstadt

After decades of protest focused around the rallying point of Gorleben in Lower Saxony, a commission has been appointed to seek out other candidate locations to host this onerous and unending olympiad of atomic waste.
One place being considered among a list of many is the sleepy town of Mellrichstadt, on the border with Thuringia and not very far away from us.
The town is being considered because of its relatively sparse population and similarly geologically constituted for long-term stability. Besides the fact it's in our backyard, consideration probably discounts the fact that the Rhรถn mountains here are a range of extinct volcanoes, and, as with virtually any spot in Germany that may appear like a suitable place for the long-term sequestering of spent nuclear fuel, that surety is threatened by the ambitions of prospectors who peddle American-style fracking as a solution to help meet the goals of the Energy Reform mandate. Germany will not simply export its problems but dealing with not inconsequential by-products takes foresight and commitment, not necessarily to be conduced into accepting this toxic burden but also looking further down the line towards legacies that are hard to imagine or keep in perspective.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

painting the roses red or mezzoamerica

Though not necessarily enjoying the moral high-ground due to their own speculative surveillance practices, China and Russia have little reason to dignify threats from the US over harbouring a fugitive from Justice.
Ecuador's bold and unflinching withdrawal, however, from a export regime, instituted to curb cocaine production, with America in response to sabre-rattling over its willingness to grant Snowden asylum is an act of standing up to bullies and the system deserving of one of those slow claps that gallop to a round of applause. The US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee has moved to deny the South American country preferential treatment in trade—something like a Most-Favoured status which is accorded to some 130 nations. The defiance is more than symbolic, since though they will find other willing buyers for their oil and other natural resources, the vegetable and cut-flower industies will take a hit. Ecuador even does its tormentors one better—not only rejecting this framework to end the blackmail but offering to repatriate or render the equivalent millions of dollars it has realised in benefits to the US to fund institutions and programmes in support of transparency, civil liberties and protecting the right to privacy.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

brusselsprout oder marco... polo

Some euro-skeptics have maintained from its conception that the union was a means for Germans to enjoy a Mediterranean holiday with minimal fuss. I do not share that opinion and believe that there are far nobler causes and potentials behind this experiment of a united and inclusive continent.

Reading the litany  of disadvantages, usurious baiting—money that's already spent, and generally bleak outlook, however, I have to pause and wonder whether membership has its positive mutually positive aspects. I do hope that this rather sombre assessment is wrong, but presented the way it is, it seems like manufacturers in Germany stand to realise a dramatic, albeit short-lived, windfall by way of new markets. A new sizable demographic has opened up to those companies with the removal of Croatia's tariff regime, no longer an outsider. A discount to further entice consumers, however, bodes only ill for an already struggling financial household (that looks already like a disqualifying factor), threatening to steamroll remaining locally owned enterprise with competition and shove the economy more towards the service and tourism sectors. Of course, other outcomes are just as likely but reciprocation does not seem entirely forthcoming and jubilation is scarce.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

for more information, please re-read

Professionally, I often find myself frustrated with the regulations and law for not anticipating my highly specific question and scenarios. I find it slightly chilling, however, when Computer is able to put words into my mouth and correctly guess my obscure and poorly lettered quieries. The New Yorker has an entertaining FAQ on FAQs, demonstrating that by the dint of definition address what is frequently asked.

ravelin or navi knows best

Although I really appreciate GPS (a navigational system) for never saying, “Why do you want to go there?” though turning really bossy and panicky if one strays from the direct route and sometimes betraying a twisted sense of humour, maybe sometimes the question should be asked. On the way back from one of the few errands that I need to drive to accomplish, I decided to find out what Fort Biehler exactly was. I had spied this turret from the Autobahn every time I passed that way but it turned out it was not part of the fort at all, but a much older watchtower (Warte) of the village of Erbenheim, the landmark built in 1497. It difficult to find the right angle and distance to take a picture of the tower, which had little contrast against the overcast skies but some thoughtful person put a miniature model in his garden, though the actual tower was facing just beyond.
The fort, I found out after a long walk through the neighbourhood and the forest was an inaccessible ruin, cordoned off behind a security fence in a training groud used by the German and America military for exercises and there was not much to see of the foundations itself.
Completed in the last decades of the 1800s, Fort Biehler was part of a massive ensemble of defensive constructs known as Fortress Mainz, this area being where the Palatinate's possessions slipped south of the Rhein and into Hessian holdings, named in honour of the chief of the Prussian corps of engineers and architect, General Hans Alexis von Biehler, who designed many such structures, including the citadel at Spandau and was nearly as prolific as his French rival, Marquis de Vauban, whom we've chased around during our travels as well.
In accordance with the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, Fortress Mainz was defanged and the fort was used to garrison French forces before eventually being cannibalised for building material in the 1930s. With sweeping views of Wiesbaden and Mainz from this area, it was easy to imagine the vantage such a fortification had and I'm glad that GPS devices are not overly opinionated or timid about exploring.

Monday, 24 June 2013

of mice and men or hoodoo economics

Though it is hard to say how well the experiment's participants were shielded from the fact that they were subject to research, since knowing that one is taking part in a psychological or behavioural study makes people act in strange ways, trying to prove their cleverness or uniqueness—the observer-expectancy effect, sort of like a clinical Stockholm Syndrome, the Frankfurter Rundschau (via the English daily the local) features the work of a sociological battery of test conducted in Bamberg, raising the stakes, to illustrate how a competitive environment can quickly undermine our convictions and values.

It's really horrible to contemplate that human participants were willing to speculate and bargain, a race to the bottom, with the certain death of lab rats (though I am sure no animals were harmed in the name of that particular study and maybe as the opportunists were thinking too), but selling out one's morals, rather than being abetted by an embarrassment of choices and conscientious alternatives, goes unaided and even further compromised by the prospect of a bargain, since even with an extreme example (reductio ad Hitlerum, seriously) we are failing to recognise that our consumer decisions are easily overturned and the consequences of those choices become marginalised, buying known or strongly suspected goods produced under objectionable conditions or taking the more expedient route when we ought to know better. What do you think? The unbraided market and government policies are strong influences but not moral imperatives. Is the chance to make a deal indicative of sellers' remorse and moral bankruptcy?

Sunday, 23 June 2013

heel, toe or a shoe-horn, the kind with teeth

Every time there is a strong gust of wind, the astroturf on my balcony of my little apartment flies up at the edges and forms bubbles across the surface. When the winds calms down, I try to flatten it out and readjust it against the edges, which is difficult to do since portions of where it was pasted to the concrete still hold fast and there's no where to step where the carpet shouldn't be—and I am not going to attempt bracing myself up since I am not on the ground floor and should not try any dangerous acrobatics. I decided I needed a weight to hold the edges and a planter or anything heavy would have sufficed, but I got it in my head that I should have one of those “anchors” I always see at flea markets.
I always thought that they looked kind of cool but I could not imagine until now what they might be good for, besides stubbing one's toes on. I did not spy any for a couple of weeks, and even asked and told H about my idea—“You know, those little anchors.” No one knew what I was talking about, especially something that one can always find. I found one, but it turns out it's not an anchor at all, but I suppose could be modified for that purpose, but rather a cobblers' tool, like a little anvil for forming and beating a shoe into shape. It always works for the purposes of holding down indoor-outdoor carpeting.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

prism break or needle in a haystack

Little Brother with the GCHQ (Government Communi- cations Headquarters) and fibre-optics wire-tapping programme is certainly nothing to scoff at and possibly out-does its America cousin in terms of brute invasiveness and bookkeeping, with a platform called Tempora. These examples are surely not the lone, or even principle players, in the global vying for data collection and probably one could assume that any armament exporting countries have built the same infrastructure, pawning off excess capacity and physical liabilities to importing nations as red herrings, though flawed maybe in confusing data with intelligence but petit-sophisticates in realising dominance and prosecuting wars in a tidy and more profit-saving way.
Surely Germany has a Stasi-Rebooted programme in the fight, which probably explains the dispro- portionately mild accusations and demands for explanation levied against the Americans—for fear of looking like hypocrites for having the same aspirations and no country is trusting and completely innocent. The internet is always adapting and a few steps ahead of the surveyors and here are a few professional tips and upgrades that you can use to stave off (or at least watch) the nosiness and eavesdropping—that is, if you can believe this resource is not a front thrown together to get people to load software on their communication devices to make prying them open even easier.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

of malls and mosques

Writing for the Spectator, Norman Stone has an interesting primer on the developing situation in Turkey, which challenges some of the stereotypes and assumptions that pooled a lot brave and bracing defiance into a batch of plainly detrimental expectations. Maybe the Western world really wants this place to live up to their idea of an acceptably Muslim and swarthier version of Germany, and of course in Germany and anywhere else home to a diaspora, there's discomfort and a certain sort of blanket surmising and feeling of being crowded out balanced out with an imperfect logic of thinking that the immigrants (anyone vaguely Turkish-ish) weren't able to hack it back at home, so Deutschland is not recipient of the choicest of masses.

Of course, those are not matters for polite conservation and obscure the fact that activists and hardliners have their hopes and ambition—their bourgeoisie, their dogmatists, both secular and religious. Turkey's bids for inclusion in the European Union, courting its own set of proponents and dissenters alike in a sort of macroscopic rallying point, may shape protest and response to perhaps keep up appearances and maybe an allotment for reform, but such tempers cause people to stick with old attitudes and prejudices. What do you think? Is such pressure a conduit for for positive change or just fitting comfortably into a pattern?

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

one hand clapping or monkey see, monkey do

The science desk of the BBC features an interesting study and meta-analysis of the mentality and momentum of audiences, concluding basically that applause is a social contagion. Watching footage of hundreds of endings to live speeches and other performances showed that the catalyst was the clapping of one or two individuals, sustaining the ovation, until an equal sampling of the audience stops.

Researchers found that the immediate acclaim had no relation to the quality or reception of the show but rather stemmed from the stimulus. There is of course a lot to be said for etiquette and politeness, but I wonder how such mimicking behaviour is reflected elsewhere, like the indiscriminate sharage and championing of all causes and comers in social networks. A few years ago, sociologists revealed that in many cases guilt, an undutiful kind, rather than genuine interest, underlies civility when it comes to accepting amicable invitations or joining up to play some virtual game, when beckoned, and joining such a platform over another in the first place, I imagine. I also wonder if echo-chamber, not peer-pressure, represents something new. Are such phenomena merely easier to observe—or with the spread of the known and the knowable, easily referenced, are we loosing our ability to discriminate and judge what's deserving of cheer? Live studio-audiences used to have a scripted cue and opera-companies in France used to employ professional applause artists to encourage, and booing (though possibly just as contagious) has been relegated to snarky and mean-spirited commentary, whereas the audience used to lob rotten vegetables for bad acting. I am not sure which critique was more civilised.


Collectors' Weekly has an excellent and engrossing article profiling the curators and collection of the smallest museum in the world, located serendipitously down an alleyway in Manhattan.

This cabinet of curiosities is installed in the space left empty (formerly occupied by a freight elevator) beneath the collectors' production studio, and aims to document the dander of society captured in changing exhibits, showing the wonders of everyday things. I suppose it's like a time capsule, keenly aware of its own irony, except it's always on display, inviting people not only to stop and look but also engage in dialogue and share their own experience with collecting and personal criteria. Although the intent differs, I see the same tiny museum reflected in these delightful lending-libraries, popping up everywhere, like these stacks housed in a surplus telephone booth at a remote campsite in Switzerland. Of course, the depository is there for sharing and leisurely reading while on vacation, but there's an aesthetic to it too—something reaching beyond the titles and choice, how they got there and what sort of forces keep books in circulation or dammed up in an unexpected spot—which is far better than anything on demand and flustered for attention.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

unmoved mover

In response to Ankara's violent usurping the protesters' of their venue in Istanbul have taken a passive stance. The so-called “Standing Man” has inspired hundreds of others to keep a silent vigil, not willing to be kettled and moving for hours and refusing to budge, despite authorities waxing wise to the statement. Like the riots in Tunisia over the desperation of and empathy for a fruit-seller's dwindling prospects that went on to ignite the revolutions of the Arab Spring, the situation in Turkey is evolving, growing from a protest on environmental grounds to an expression of grave dissatisfaction with the drift of the current regime.

oh weal, oh woe or ttip—ta ta for now

Watchdog CEO (Corporate Europe Observatory) delves into the details of the US-EU trade agreement that was ratified at the G9 summit and shows how, without much imagination of an embarrassment of gullibility, public welfare is becoming a nuisance easily steamrolled by business interests, constituted in such a way as to give industry carte-blanche to flagrantly ignore established national laws and policies and give pause to governments thinking of championing the common weal.  Of course this development is vying for attention (or rather, seeking cover) with the Conference itself and the effective-date for FATCA in Germany, plus whatever distracting scandal of the day. 

When regulatory climates are seen as damaging to investor profits or acting toward the detriment of health, labour-rights, safety or the environment—depending on one's perspective, both parties are bound to submit their cases before a kangaroo court of arbitrated settlement, the commission for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), headed by a group of lawyers with an established reputation. Lobbyists on both sides of the Atlantic are responsible for crafting these conditions, and thankful activists the world around are keenly aware of the dangers of disincentivizing de-soverigning, too. Unfortunately public service has its price, as well, demonstrated by the precursors to this treaty.

let me see you shake your tail-feathers

Science writer and teacher, Carl Zimmer, has a beautiful and provoking science video for TEDEducation (Technology, Entertainment, Design, perhaps best known for their annual conferences, brain-storming sessions and for their slogan of “ideas worth spreading,” which ponders how the evolution of feathers and flight might have evolved over the ages into the explosive variety and creativity we see in birds today.
 Nature is nothing if not resourceful and we are all witnesses to works-in-progress and not the finished-product, however it is still strange (no matter how the family resemblances surface) to re-think dinosaurs as something quirky and almost approachable, decorated with fuzz and fancy plumage like one of those off-breed prize hens or fashion pigeon, instead of something muscular and monstrous, like a Ray Harryhausen creation. It is sort of like being told all those marble sculptures of antiquity were no gleaming white and pristine as they are displayed (and copied) nowadays but rather all painted up in garish harlequin colours, with hair and eye-balls. A whole series of videos on different subjects can be found at the TEDEducation link.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

neutralitat or bread and butter

Meanwhile back in Switzerland, as Reuters reports (bad link), the president of the federal council says that he would lend his support into an investigation into the claims of a CIA-leaker that his tour time spent in Geneva was formative. This is one man airing his opinion who happens to be the leader of an executive body of seven individuals representing the closest thing that the free world has to direct-democracy, stemming from checks and balances established in medieval times. Of course, he's entitled to it and the story, unverifiable, of the leaker given in recent interviews did seem a little imaginative and incredulous, but it did seem like something a bit weaselly to say, at first hearing: a concession to justice American-style brokered at a sensitive time when the US is intent on barn-storming Swiss banking regulations and hosting such a circus might make the States back off from their demands a bit.
With privacy sacred and enshrined, however, it does not seem like a thoughtless comment meant to sacrifice or discredit anyone. Credibility is impossible to speak to, especially considering how America's trumped up reasons for engaging Iraq was shot full of holes like Swiss cheese by a fax transmission intercepted by the Confederation (the Swiss read all of your faxes). Maybe it was a deliberate invitation for entrapment to reveal the real scope of America's surveillance programme or a way to help ensure that a nuisance is not simply disappeared or sacrificed to maintain the status quo. I honestly feel more than a bit dissuaded from looking into this case, for fear it's already on my permanent record, and maybe a summons is what we all need to stand up to bullies, since after all, the actions—though only confirmed after a long career—of the CIA and NSA are not treaties to surpass local law but have yet negated Switzerland's (and those of everyone else) attitudes and protections for privacy touching all matters.

sunday drive: by jove

In an on-going effort to try to discover more my surround neighbour- hoods, I took the chance one afternoon to explore the suburban borough of Schierstein, bordering the Rhein and just southwest of Wiesbaden-proper. I had passed through this part of town a few times and frequented an old stand-by flea-market in the industrial area but was happy to have the opportunity to explore further, owing to a disappointing search of the market.
Passing through previously, I usually rounded a corner that held a representation of the town's crest, a blue and gold globus cruciger—that is, a crossed sphere of royal regalia, the orb, sceptre and crown. I am uncertain why the town adopted this symbol but found it interesting that the iconography was known already in Roman times and may have been introduced by the place's early occupants. An intact Column of Jupiter from the year 221 BC, depicting the Roman ruler of the gods riding a ship's figurehead, hood ornament-like rendering of the Germanic god Wotan, Jupiter's local equivalent (possibly meant to be an insult to the native Teutons and an assertion of supremacy of the Empire) was unearthed in the mid nineteenth century in the same spot on the town's harbour, a dock for a lot of leisure boats and home to Wiesbaden's yachting club.

This is a faithful reproduction and the unique original is in a museum, and such columns were the ancient equivalent of modern day garden gnomes (or perhaps in this case, a lawn jockey), which Germans are pretty fond of too. The town also had some architectural gems, like this Rococo church from the sixteenth century, dedicated to Saint Christophorus (Christopher), who of course, considering himself oafish doubted that he could ever do anything good or helpful, became the patron of travellers, since owing to his size and strength could handily ferry people across the river—surely the River Rhine as well.
The town's rooftops and with the help of the care of its human residences have also been transformed into a sanctuary for storks.  This suburb enjoys one of the highest populations in Germany and signals that such recuperation and healing campaigns can be wildly successful, with couples returning to the same roost to build their nests and rear their young year after year.

Saturday, 15 June 2013


silk road or it happened on the way to mulberry street

Although we did not seen much evidence of this native industry during our recent vacation to the Lombardy region (but it is surely there if one seeks it out and knows where to look), Como and its environs produce an astonishing quarter of the worldwide output of silk.

The top manufacturing country is Brazil, climates being similar and the sheltering cliffs, like this one from the Swiss side of Lake Lugano, evoke a feeling of being in the bay of Rio de Janeiro. Italy was a relative late-comer in the silk business, whose broader history spins intrigue and is the impetus for some unlikely developments. Though robust trade had existed for at least two centuries prior via the Silk Road from the Orient, the material was a costly and mysterious luxury, the process monopolised and kept secret by Chinese exporters.
 Not quite on a mission to save souls, two monks were sent to the Far East, charged by the French monarchy of finding out the secret and bringing back to Europe, in the mid fifteenth century, in what may be the earliest example of industrial espionage. Having learnt the process, the monks smuggled seeds of the mulberry tree and eggs of caterpillars in diplomatic pouches, messenger tubes of bamboo. Mulberry leaves were the exclusive diet of silk-worms, the juvenile form of the moth Bombyx mori who spin cocoons out of silk.
It's sad and unfair that these little hopeful caterpillars are boiled alive in the middle of their metamorphosis in order to harvest their weave and warp, but having mastered the cultivation and working the material, places like Lyon soon became very rich and influential for having broken the cartel. Without the zealous explosion in mills, producing ever more intricate and automated patterns, the industrial and modern computing may have never happened—the looms emerging as something programmable and Turing-complete with cards, instructions for producing designs. The rest of Europe was not content to let the French have all the profits and glory, however, and others learnt the process, including the former Italian and Venetian middle-men in the original and established trade process, sore at having their business suffer.
Prussia's Frederick the Great, whose alchemists are also credited with making the first china, porcelain, outside of China, wanted in on the game too and ordered the cultivation of mulberry trees (Maulbeerbรคume) all over Germany—this is why the mulberry is not an exotic plant these days, as fodder for the little caterpillars. This legacy still exists today, and German silk-making, in the interim led to a successful early manned-flight by a certain tinkerer and aviator in Bavaria named Gustave WeiรŸkopf, pre-dating more famous pioneers, with wings made of silk taut on a bamboo frame, intensive war-time production of parachutes for Fallschirmjรคger, and a textile export for the DDR that was in demand and a source of pride. What an interesting chain of events the cocoons of a little bug, that is still an ugly duckling afterwards, brings together.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

macarthur park is melting in the dark

Though those genuine articles of engagement and dependent reform may be elusive still, but it is a note-worthy development that the media churns, possibly with a certain chomping at the bit to break the sorrowful or revolutionary, with the elaborated entrenchment at Taksฤฑm Square and Gezi Park in Istanbul—and any other surprise walk-on cameo waiting in the wings, seems a bit of a trade-off.
The sustained attention is a positive outcome, but in for a penny, in for a pound, it seems a bit of a poor volley to inspire sudden changes of heart and arm-chair relativism and acutely detracting from the message.   Originating as a human barricade to protect the city's green-spaces from commercial development and growing from there, the government did not entertain dialogue or negotiation but suppressed the outcry, rather, with violence.  It's OK to admit ignorance as to the developing situation in Turkey, with the the hope that information will be unmediated and forth-coming, without prospecting and with pressured demure.

re-flagging or from blueberry hill to bath in the meadows

I was disappointed to learn that after years of digging in her heels, credulous with disbelief and subject to politics and planning that were not exactly rooted in reason that I missed the official ceremony that was the city of Heidelberg's final relenting—held literally just around the corner.

The transfer of authority signaled the end after some sixty eight years the hosting of the headquarters of the American Army in Europe passing on to the fair city of Wiesbaden. The colours for the historic V Corps, a tenant unit, were cased, and it was a bit like rethinking tradition and memory, however antiquated, same-otherwise and as a practical exercise. I have plenty of nice recollections from Heidelberg as well, as many others come forward. A lot could be be said regarding the decision, set in motion quite some time ago but without real momentum or the garnering of an abundance of enthusiasm—as with past rounds of base closures that seemed arbitrary and even counter-productive—including the choice for the location of the event.
The parade-grounds were not on the air field in Wiesbaden, were the headquarters are being built, but rather the venue chosen was the palatial gardens of Schloss Biebrich on the Rhine. I think that the decision for the setting was more than just aesthetic—with no viable location on base, due to on going construction and severe over-crowding and a sanctioned protest rally planned for the same day by the post's German neighbours to complain about the worsening noise from night-time training flights. I am sorry that I only found out about this occasion too late to see it in person and hope that there were not too many inauspicious omens for the exchange and we will see what the transformation brings in the next few years.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

old head waters run dry or cry me a river

Tragically a lot of people along the flood plains of the Danube, Elbe, Rhine and the Main are being made to contemplate the unimaginable—starting over and with nothing salvageable. Not comparable to over concurrent outrages, still it seems we were all unwitting accomplices, lulled into thinking that rivers would be contained with concrete and dams, shored up in response to a disaster in 2002, and policies that enabled sloppy, muddy footprints from everyone of us, as contributors.

I cannot imagine what these people are going through—though the images of disaster porn are becoming more vicarious (and shared experiences too). I cannot image what it is like to have lost all ones tangible possession and be faced with the prospects, through misadventure, of starting over, due to a grave engineering miscalculation. Closer to home, we had our share of tense moments too, watched with wringing hands and window-dressing, but these close calls, however mounting and threatening in the imagination-affording dark of night, were never destructive and seemed to stem from a natural string of consequences, unrelenting rains coupled with a premature thaw and so on. But our unbridled stream quickly blushed back to its banks. Rage, although relative, is not an honest attribute, expressed not without concert and competition, and like the suffering and nervous sandbagging, the run-away abuse and consumption is also something for which we are all co-conspirators.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

through the looking-glass

Though there is no other side of the coin, no deflecting of blame that makes trawling the internet in the name of security any more dolphin-friendly or excusable behaviour, but perhaps early-adopters of new technologies might exercise more caution and general-users might want to give less weight to convenience, banking on-line or ordering from shops on the internet or over-sharing.
 After all, it seems that a Handy is a tracking-device, a transponder (and not a black-box) that happens to include something called a “Calling - App,” and so forth. Smart phones can summarily out fox us. Although corporations have tried to quash freedom and utility on the world wide web, no monopoly or cartel—or legal codex, has been able to keep in stride with innovation and re-invention. Should the newest gadget or platform, however, be regarded with the healthy suspicion that they are merely casings for bugs and spy cameras, maybe America will realise that its policies and diplomacy have consequences, inward and outward.

Monday, 10 June 2013

duomo di como

Among all the interesting sights we saw was the City of Como on the south western leg of the lake.

From the harbour, we were greeted by a monument to science.
We overheard a tourist declare to her husband tha was in fact the “Temple of Como,” flatly, as if some pagan god dwelt there, battery-powered.
Rather it was a memorial for native son Alessadro Volta and held the first engineered and practical energy sink and cell in the world. Campers, among many others, tip their hats to Volta, I'm sure. Next after exploring the piers, we came to the ancient cathedral among the ensemble of the oldest part of the city and other sacred architecture.
We were joined in admiring the series of altars and niches by a contingency of Buddhist monks clad in orange robes. I wondered if they were fellow-tourists or if initiates were sent out into the world to document their experience on tablet devices. They seemed genuinely engaged as we were, in any case—treated to an organ concert. The performer was seated at the keyboard beneath an unusual nave with a crucifix figure coiffed with genuine human hair.

roy g. biv or the dark side of the moon

It's not as if out of the blue, the US intelligence agencies now can see us as God and the Angels or Santa Claus—not quite or that the congress of private individuals, businesses and the negotiations of statesmanship was heretofore above snooping and observation, but still to be confronted with the brute and raw data, the scope and depth, is chilling. Already, America has demanded the flight-manifests of passengers world-wide and has become a clearing-house of financial transactions, bullying those reluctant to play along into submission. The herding instinct, strength in numbers kept us safe individually. Underscoring the tribunal of fellow-sieve Bradley Manning, a contractor with the nebulous National Security Agency could no longer face the sinister realities, of course assumed but danced around and it turns out veiled with a spindly cover of lies and false-modesty.
Thank goodness that there are individuals with the strength of convictions to speak out and force the erosion of privacy—long beat up but rarely addressed in earnest, since these quantified revelations, billions, trillions of data elements per month profiling citizens all around the world, drag-net style, like cases of industrial espionage, political baiting and spy-rings tend to create an overall confessional mood. Perhaps the owning up will be more than the fessing up that all intelligence agencies spy on one another but might inspire some more whistle-blowing. How could the German Chancellor greet the American President next time, from a background where the private-sphere is enshrined and protected and discussed and debated and shake hands with an equal who has basically appointed himself as her parole-officer, knowing more intimate details (at least anything with an electronic finger-print) than the Stasis without a blush of anger and feeling violated on behalf of the people she represents—not that Germany was more or less of a target than any other nation, the USA included.

What does such a discovery mean for the efforts of other countries and organizations fighting for increased protections for privacy and the right to be forgot? Since this information is unlikely to ever be purged, even if the zealous grab is relaxed and promises of safe-keeping are extended, do sovereign attitudes and latitudes become even more irrelevant, regardless of whether the data is transited through the States or not? And as for safe-keeping, despite a lot of people with consciences, there are unending and grand-standing scandals not to be out done of violations of public trust, from targeting certain affiliations to be put through the wringers to legions of baggage checkers who steal from passengers' luggage and just general self-important people with a quantum of authority to abuse. This outrage against the world, I think, won't settle quietly, in spite and because.

smugglers' roost

We ended our vacation with a detour to the isolated village of Samnaun, which was like a little Las Vegas nestled in the Alps or a giant duty-free shop. Due to its remoteness, until 1905 only accessible by road from Austria, it was granted a tax-free status, which it still enjoys though there is a direct route up a steep mountain route with a series of tight and intimidating tunnels that can only be passed one vehicle at a time.
Tankers haul petrol, luxury goods and booze up to the top of the mountains and people flock there to save some fifty Rappen per liter on fuel and realize steep discounts once the VAT is taken away. There are arguments that this sort of break is no longer necessary, since the villagers are not quite so inaccessible and see immense profits from all their visitors but it certainly does create for unique environment, a sort of a land that the law forgot. I did not realize it at the time but when we were lounging about the shores of Lake Lugano, a similar Italian enclave (enjoying the same tax exclusions but for reasons of historical intrigues and not just owing to its isolation) was just to our south—Campione d'Italia, cut off from the rest of Italy only by a few hundred impassable meters and with access exclusively through the Confederation.