Thursday, 29 August 2013

triple-witching or who you gonna call?

The mayor of a sizable village in Abruzzo has conscripted the assistance of the Italian branch of the European Paranormal Activity Society (EPAS) to investigate mysterious sounds haunting the area.
I thought, sadly, that society had become too jaded for claims lacking photographic documentation or peer-review and appropriate adjudication or co-opted by the within-explanation biology and pathology of zombies, and so it is pretty keen to discover that there are still true-believers (despite their public front, reminiscent of faux-documentaries) just rearing to be of service for situations like this. Surely there are phenomena that do not yield for tradition explanations, despite whatever array of chroniclers that ought to be available, at any place or at any time and strangeness that is camera-shy. What do you think? Does your part of the realm of the living need the help of the ghost-busters to help settle accounts? Just remember, don't cross the streams.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

kofferraum or bring a towel

I stumbled over a delightful blog by the name of Ask the Past, full of practical albeit subject to ridicule advice from old publications. Trying to harriedly take stock of what I might need for our weekend-getaway and allay it most efficiently, the following recommendations from an Italian peripatetic from 1480 gave me some solice and direction:

"[A traveller] should carry with him two bags: one very full of patience, the other containing two hundred Venetian ducats, or at least one hundred and fifty... furthermore, he should provision himself with good Lombard cheese, sausages, tongue, and other cured meats of every sort; white biscuits, some cakes of sugar, and various confections, but not a great quantity because they spoil quickly. Above all he should take plenty of fruit syrup, because that is what keeps a man alive in extreme heat; and also ginger syrup to settle his stomach if it is upset by too much vomiting."

Though we need not worry about the goons at airport security confiscating liquids or foodstuff or undeclared monetary instruments, it is nice to know that patience, over-packed, is an inalienable prescription for any journey. The site is definitely worth the visit and further exploration on topics of all sorts.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

social mediation

It should come as no surprise, since nothing seems out of bounds—especially for the information that we've volunteered for scrutiny, but the revelation that lenders world-wide are using ones social media connections to supplement more traditional means of gauging creditworthiness. Apparently, the company that one keeps and their own credit-histories can have a significant impact, especially for those absent any track-record of loans and repayments, young people and first time-buyers, to reference. I wonder what repercussions that this sort of financial-intelligence might have on how one cultivates connections, friends of friends, realizing that anyone may prove a liability and probably not a source of collateral. Maybe it's better to sit out this dance.

Monday, 26 August 2013

vee-dub or pão-de-forma

Via Jalopnik comes news that the last of the T-2's, which until this year were being produced at a Volkswagen factory in Brazil, will be manufactured and released on 31 December, due mostly to more stringent safety standards for automobiles.
To honour the end of the of the sixty-four year production run of the Bulli, the micro-bus (the hippie van was also known as the vee-dub to English speakers, since, like the world-wide-web, enunciating the W's of the initialism took more time than the whole name), the factory will be producing a special nostalgic line with the classic off-white and baby blue colour scheme of the sixties. In Brazil—which I remember manufactured the classic Beetle along with a plant in Mexico also for decades after it disappeared from US and European markets, the buses are modified to run on sugar-cane and are as popular as ever. It is sad to see such a classic line finally go but I know its legacy will live on.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

context clues or you see, it's OK. he saw it on the television

Mental Floss featured an interesting round up of eleven creative interpretations of classic films that's a bit above the caliber of the investigative work my friends and I did watching a VHS cassette of Three Men and a Baby one frame at a time to catch a glimpse of the tortured ghost stage-hand that was caught on a millisecond of the released version of the movie, but still rather implausible though well-constructed. The alternative reading that struck me the most was theories on the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining. I had heard the suggestions before that the movie was a veiled allegory of the director's views of the Holocaust or the genocide of the aboriginal peoples of the Americas, a significant departure from the book on which its based, but over all not a very compelling argument.
As the author of the original novel posits, however, all writing is a confession although it is not always clear what one is owning up to—though in this case, the author admitted that he had had some dark thoughts about his family when they got on his nerves, the article, referencing a documentary called Room 237, debuted during the Directors' Fortnight of last year's Film Festival at Cannes, entertains the idea that the changes in the screen-adaptation were the esteemed director's secret confessions for his part in the mock-up, staging of the Apollo Moon landings. Conspiracy theorists and Moon-landing deniers have found all sorts of supporting evidence, including, the sweater that Danny Torrence wears bears the Apollo 11 rocket, the lunar mileage was about 237,000 miles—hence the warning to avoid Room 237—and the distinctive hotel carpet pattern that Danny races his Big Wheel across bears some resemblance to the launch pad for the mission. An awful lot of the iconic scenes only come from the film—the wave of blood from the elevator, the ghost twins in the hallway and the writer's block expressed on dozens of typed pages. It seems like a pretty far-fetched explanation and one can surely find hints like these anywhere, if they support one's thesis. What do you think? Do you think there are such admissions lurking in the subtleties of gaffing and artist license?

Saturday, 24 August 2013

commemorative edition

It is pretty effortless to order up apparel with any print or slogan that one sees fit nowadays, or even to print a three-dimensional rendering as a keepsake of anything that has transpired. In the past, people have said some pretty obtuse things, which I thought ought to be embroidered on a throw pillow or stitched on a sampler, if I had that talent.

Showing that figurines were not only sentimental subjects in eras gone by, I think that this excellent interview with an accomplished collector of some of the more sensational and gruesome pieces of Staffordshire pottery from Collectors' Weekly, show that people even back then wanted to have conversation pieces—even if it was not always material fit for polite conversation, the tabloid scandals of the day, maulings, murder, emancipation, and discriminatory marriage laws. It's amazing how these unusual figurines, especially the Ersatz hunting dogs, sort of totems for the unlanded gentry who were not allowed by law to keep real dogs, tell a story and capture an elements of the times that would otherwise be lost.

kevin bacon number or seven-league boots

Though it is a challenge to find a non-moribund version that complements the original science project—and it's sad to think how precariously curated some brilliant things were handled just a few scant years ago, aping at this strange sort of premature immortality only to be displaced and neglected, looking back from an age just a few years later with the threat that most mundane and uninteresting things will ever be forgot—a clever student basically downloaded the growing database of Wikipedia and developed a route to allow users to enter queries on two desperate and random topics through his server and find the distance (the Kevin Bacon number, the connections, steps it takes to bridge both items) between them in the Wikipedia universe. Six Degrees of Wikipedia, it was called and was introduced in 2007, although it appears there has been no one to maintain the programme. Surely still educational and serendipitous, one sees latter day incarnations as a game with a certain frame work, which I think makes the search more of a trivial pursuit. Research, triangulation and abstraction, however, cannot be replaced by any amount of brute force or compendious collection, nor a sense of anticipation or urgency that spoils the surprise.
I wonder how the project's inventor thinks about browsers and engines, without stint or bias, almost without fail direct questions that have no resale value toward their Wikipedia articles. Since the first speech broadcast to those within ear-shot, the speed of communications has been dangerously out-stripping the speed of comprehension. One writer for Der Spiegel's Eines Tages lost-and-found bureau, invites readers on a monthly adventure with a daisy-chain of nodes and relays from the universal encyclopedia to bring together two topics in seven, possibly specious but always interesting, steps. The latest installment (liediglich nur auf Deustch) by Danny Kringiel links the history and development of rail-transport in Japan with the current state of affairs and exposure with the spying apparatuses of the United States. I am sure such a thesis accepts tangents as well.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

seven against thebes

Recently, the unsurpassable Twisted-Sifter featured as its picture of the day the ceiling fresco of St. Paulinus' Church in Trier, photographed with care by a professional who carefully stitched together several separate images to capture the entire canvas of the nave (far superior to my snap-shot from a visit a few years ago) by Rococo artist Christoph Thomas Scheffler. The church, a Basilica minor, itself was designed by the son of another superstar of the time, prolific architect Balthasar Neumann, and is dedicated to the local bishop who became a saint after his body was repatriated to this church after dying in exile, banished by the emperor a certain rivals for holding a view on the nature of the Trinity not en vogue at the time.
The amazing fresco depicts the martyrdom of the Theban Legion, a Roman garrison in Egypt,who were converted and condemned en masse under the leadership of St. Moritz, patron of many places in Germany and beyond—other members are venerated as well, including San Fedele (Saint Felix) who ended up in Como, when dispatched to the French-Swiss border to quell an (im)pious uprising and refused to do so.

fiat geld or straw into gold

In response to the growing interest and esteem of the Bitcoin, Der Spiegel reports, the German

Finance Ministry has gone so far as describing the “private-money,” while not on equal footing with legal-tender, as a unit of account—a measure of market value, which economists hold as one of the three essential mechanisms of exchange along with a being surrogate for the commerce of goods and services and a store of value. It seems like a small concession and possibly bestowed ahead of move for regulation and taxation, but I think that the declaration, though not the first instance of government scrutiny of this virtual currency, also acknowledges that the credence that any form of money enjoys is based solely on the faith of believers and is subject to the ebb and flow of crazes (although there is a powerful contingency interested in maintaining confidence), just like passing fads and fashions, more quickly displaced, and their artefacts.

pirate bay or the 13 hongs of scooby doo

Not that contemporary events are not not engaging enough and the roots of greed and corruption are ever so shallow, happening to read a bit of an article on the Fugitive (he kind of reminds me of Shaggy, better get back to the Mystery Machine) while waiting to get a haircut (I am thankful that some places still have a selection of magazines to pass the time and not assume that everyone has or has the compunction to stare at a telephone) read that the place he first sought refuge in Hong Kong was specifically in the district of Kowloon, a pretty posh area in places but also formerly host to one of the strangest, seediest underworlds of history: Kowloon Walled-City.
The British Empire was granted the ninety-nine year lease of the important port city as a result of the Treaty of Nanking that brought a temporary peace to the Opium Wars. Already unhappy with the tariffs and strictures imposed on foreign merchants (transaction were indirect and handled through mediators called hongs and restricted to thirteen factories, industrial parks) by the Chinese Empire, the dissatisfaction was exacerbated for the main player, the royally chartered British East India Company, by having its profitable cotton trade displaced by production in Egypt. To make up for this loss, the corporation turned its focus in the Bengali region to poppy-harvesting and aggressively flooding the market with opium. Chinese objections to this tactic were countered with war that created a rather unbalanced legacy.

The trigger for aggressions was ignited in the neighbourhood of Kowloon over the question of immunity and jurisdiction regarding a smuggler caught by Chinese authorities. Despite the uneven demands of the British, the annexation of Hong Kong created an unique exclave within an enclave in the Walled-City of Kowloon, originally a fort built in the tenth century to oversee the salt trade. The leasors permitted the Chinese administration to remain in place to govern the population, which grew from seven-hundred to some thirty-three thousand at it height, all compacted into a very small area—even by Hong Kong standards. With no one taking responsibility for responsibility for this place, it became a den of black-market dealings with uncertain jurisdiction. I wonder if the Fugitive chose such a place intentionally.

Monday, 19 August 2013

the pillars of hercules or non plus ultra

The European Union is dispatching a committee to possibly mediate the strife between the UK territory of Gibraltar and the surrounding Kingdom of Spain. Although this contention is nothing new, the promontory ceded to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by the Treaty of Utrecht that settled the Wars of the Spanish Succession in the early eighteenth century and residence of the Rock have roundly rejected measures for devolution. The latest escalating episode that has attracted the attention of the EU is over increased border checks that the Spanish government has imposed. Spain argues that autonomous Gibraltar, whose economy is largely based on financial services and internet-gambling is not doing enough to control smuggling and black-market activities, though employing a lot of Spanish day-labourers besides.
Britain argues it is in retribution for the sinking of several concrete blocks off-shore to create an artificial reef in waters that Spain claims, ostensibly to promote sea-life and the haul in this disputed area. From a mythological point of view, it is interesting that the landmark is interpreted as both an act of ditch-digging to reach open-waters quicker, connecting the Mediterranean with the Atlantic and as an act of narrowing the straits to prevent the ingress of sea-monsters by Hercules. Whether inviting or foreboding, what lie beyond the strait represented uncharted territory. Some contend too that the symbolism of the columns regaled with sash became the dollar sign, $ with two vertical bars from the glyph for pesos. Whatever the real reason behind this dispute and arbitration, whether it be a stance against colonialism or for self-determination and open-borders, is unclear, as British warships enter as they have done some weeks ago in the Falklands, no one is mentioning Spain's own contentious exclaves, the port cities of Ceuta, considered the southern pole of Hercules, and Melilla in Morocco. We will see what happens.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

rink-a-dink or bed-and-board

Though far from forthcoming and most deflectionary with their motives, administrators for the city of Berlin (not used as a metonym for the government of Germany entire) are making arguments against service-providers that help connect tourists with residents who have a spare room, sofa or air-mattress to offer, saying that the entrepreneurs are contributing to the shortage of affordable housing through speculative by encouraging speculation and holding onto surplus space, awaiting a turn in the properties market.
That hardly seems like a valid accusation to those who have managed to spin a meagre sum of gold by offering the extra space to visitors to the city at a discount and with the bonus of very personable accommodations and native knowledge. For the price, one does not usually find this at traditional hotels and surely the aggressions against the industry and short-term renters is at the behest of the hotel lobby, who stand to lose profits to more flexible and hospitable individuals and probably also sore that private subleters don't have restrict regulations and a tax regime to adhere to. I've often thought about making my work-week flat available for a song (or my car during the week) on the weekends and know I have the means and infrastructure to do so. People caught renting out their homes or parts of it to vacationers could face fines, but that would do nothing to improve the housing situation, since few to none of the participants are hording space, only offering an alternative to regular billeting.
It is happening in other tourist-destinations as well and the ire of municipalities is running counter to consumer-demand. Hopefully in the end, the service-providers will prevail, but this battle-royale seems like the whinging in the States that introduced internet sales-tax or the bemoaning of the postal service and telephone companies over lost revenue due to more expedient and cheaper alternatives. Though we are happy campers ourselves, to pass such a regulation, I think, would be a dangerous assault against sharing, moonlighting and freelancing in general. What is your opinion? Is this like Ma Bell going after Skype or a legitimate way to ease the housing-crunch in big cities?

jardinière

My mother recently shared with me this brilliant and unending series of images of landscaping and gardening elements. Gathered from a variety of sources, there a lot of clever and creative ideas that I would like to incorporate. Even without a little plot of land to cultivate right now, I am always drawn to such handiwork and can never resist angling for photos of statues and art work among well tended plants and flowers. Though I know I have hundreds of other photos besides of puti and other personifications posing in gracious gardens, I went back that magical experience we had from not too long ago of exploring the grounds of Villa Carlotta on Lake Como.
Though the planters and statuary on the link are modern and not as ornate and expansive, one can really do a lot with a little space. On exiting the villa grounds, there was a strange group of what appeared to be garden gnomes, half hidden in the hedges, that did not quite fit, I though, with the rest of the style and craftsmanship. The original tenants, however, were Germans, so I suppose that has to be taken into consideration.


Saturday, 17 August 2013

mainhattan

I took a train to spend the day in the city of Frankfurt am Main and though I had been through there numerous times, I had not taken the chance to scout of the metropolis without a specific agenda and destination—usually a transportation hub. That day, however, I got to wonder at the skyline and linger over the contrasts of a work-in-progress, becoming and the historic fait accompli—much of which had been lovingly restored with care and true to the original, and some of the grittiness, and I  had the chance to see quite a few sights. I saw the big euro sign, which the € always made me think of Uncle Scrooge's (Onkel Dagoberts) Money Bin, before the European Central Bank (EZB) building.
Later walking towards the East Harbour (Osthafen) learned that that towering spire—in every German community one sees scaffolding and construction cranes busy with something—visible behind the beautiful and hallowed Cathedral of Frankfurt (Dom Sankt Bartholomäus), which is also under construction, and the Eiserner Steg, the footbridge across the Main River, is to be the future home of the European Union's financial institution, built on the grounds of the Wholesale Market Halls (Großmarkthalle) of docklands.
Further, as home to Germany's stock market, the DAX, the city has attracted an ensemble of banks and other business headquarters, hence the modern skyscrapers. I thought it good luck to rub the bear's nose and hang on the bull's horns but I don't know if that's really the customary thing to do.
I'll have to ask one of those stock-brokers next time. In back of the timbered houses and medieval edifices that comprise the city's core, the old Rathaus and its extensions known as the Römer—where emperors, newly crowned in the nearby cathedral had their celebratory banquets and is now a happy venue for civil marriages, lies the Pauluskirche (the Lutheran Church of St. Paul), which is an important political monument.
It was really only used as a consecrated place of worship sporadically.  The site is more renowned as the venue for Germany's first democratic national assembly, a convention that led to the creation of the Weimar Republic and, after WWII and the reunification.

I never had the chance before to visit the impressive upper, plenary chamber, the assembly hall, and learn about its history, as it was occupied on a previous visit with some awards ceremony. Surely, there is a lot more to discover and to learn about the city, and I am looking forward to my (and our) next chance to visit.

Friday, 16 August 2013

ligature, ligament

After seeing a street sign like those pictured, featuring a few letters combined as a single glyph, I wondered about what allowances are given to these classy but antiquated examples of paleography. Curiosity yielded former requirements for such presentation in order to maintain a level of economy and to maximise the amount of text that could be fit on a page, though various methods. Researching a little bit, and courtesy of Nag on the Lake, I came across an interesting vignette on the development and history of typography in the West. I wonder what sort of champions are out there in the age of WYSIWYG and without the pressure for brevity in taxonomy.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

lass' sie nach berlin kommen or détente

Better late than never, but I finally had the chance to visit the city museum exhibit on John Fitzgerald Kennedy's state visit to West Germany, assembled to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the event earlier in the summer and in anticipation of President Obama's visit. Kennedy's visit was wildly popular drawing throngs numbering at a million, and the speech featured a couple of other phrases in German and in Latin.

Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was 'civis romanus sum.' Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner!'... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!'

Kennedy's tour, however, did not only include the divided capital but also the Rhein-Main region where the reception was equally well-attended and well-remembered, with this interesting retrospective on display. Traveling from Köln, to Bonn in quick succession, overnighted in Wiesbaden (now a Dorint but then the Hindenberg Hotel by the train station) before traveling to Frankfurt and then Berlin. Tens of thousands in Wiesbaden alone flocked to follow the US president's parade route.
The impact of the visit was hopeful and hysterical and in contrast to the efforts of French diplomatic efforts, helped to provide resistance to the slip of the balance of power, appeasement (Entspannungspolitik) and independence towards Europe as de Gaulle was hoping to accomplish. I would like to learn more of this “third pole” notion that France advocated and how that affected the political atmosphere at the time and to be displaced by a statement of solidarity.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

naming-convention or store-brand

Who knew that pharmaceutical companies get to choose what the generic equivalent (the chemical formula for the active, essential ingredient) of their branded drugs are called—and within well-defined boundaries of pseudo-Latin and truth-in-advertising decided by a commission of grammarians?

Though free to name their patent-medicine whatever they see fit (that's not already claimed) there are restrictions imposed by the American body that governs such things are generally adhered to around the world. The rules include that prefixes that imply bigger, better, stronger, faster cannot be used nor any that name a certain part of the body nor a specific disease or handicap, and classes of drugs have their own root word, like -azepam for anti-anxiety drugs or -lukast for asthma treatments. One can find more details at the link. Though not the ones to vet new medicines, having these rules do not inspire confidence—for me, at least. Further, they can be fun names but I do wonder why companies have interest in preserving their discovery, surname, after their licenses and patents have expired.

geomancer

PfRC has been a little inclined towards cartography lately, and I am not sure if the allure is because I am so much a visual-learner (for no compelling reason, I never considered myself one but it is something to think about) or appreciate the utility and economy that comes with a bit of superimposition and putting forth geography as a means of illustration, more than just for navigating from point to point. Twisted Sifter featured an irresistible collection of forty maps from various sources that depict some really keen trivia. Not all of these examples are intuitive or seem to stand up to rigour but all are still illuminating to puzzle out or try to verify for oneself. If you could redraw any and all the geopolitical boundaries, what statics and demographics would you have the world (or your part of it) show?

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

bright young things or kick-started

Writing for the Journal of the American Revolution, Tod Andrlik presents a frankly mind-boggling yet surprisingly elementary, knowable list of the ages of the important players, the Founding Fathers and their foils, when independence was declared back in 1776. I suppose that I had my preconceptions of a lot of venerable figures assembled assembled, romancised on the obverse of currency and in other legends, but to survey the facts and figures is really disabusing. Many were quite young at the time:

James Madison was 25 years of age
Marquis de Lafayette, 18
Alexander Hamilton, 21
James Monroe, 18
Aaron Burr, 20
Betsy Ross, 24

I had no idea, and it's like finding out that Juliet and her Romeo are meant to be fourteen and fifteen year olds. George Washington, Sam Adams, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were all significantly older, but no ageism was to be found on either side (nor implied here neither). Perhaps the sole exception was in setting the minimum age for presidency at five-and-thirty.

encyclopedia brown

Via Slate Magazine's the Vault comes an introduction to one historian's elegant way to impart and present (without hyperbole) the entire rise and fall of civilisations and all other disciplines besides with a nuanced sort of economy. These fold-out histomaps (published by an established catrography company) expanded into a five foot long chart that allowed one to trace the development and connections of empires and inventions. Distributing them singly was certainly a way to introduce the reading public to innovation and continuum without having to invest in volumes. Some of the older books that we have in our library have some amazing inserts and diagrams, some really keen interactive stuff like layered trees and charts and anatomical illustrations, but nothing that one could carry around, for reference. Click on the picture to see much more detail but be sure to visit the Vault and check out the source link also features too for an interesting compendium of map-related exhibitions.


Sunday, 11 August 2013

tollhaus or authorized delay

It is among the perennial ideas put forward, especially ahead of national elections, although probably more easily digested or glommed onto than proposing a speed limit on the Autobahn or introducing tolls to native traffic, to suggest that traffic coming into Germany be charged for using its freeways, pointing out that while Germany is a transit point for the rest of Europe, roads freely available for all travelers while in almost all of the neighbouring states, Germans must pay a toll for every stretch of roadway used, with rather taxing consequences that nonetheless become nominal matters when on vacation. Maybe it is just the campaign talking but maybe too this is a proposal whose time has come—but only championed by the party who could execute the Maut in the most unbureaucratic way possible and leave it up to nearly an honour system. The former border control buildings still stand unused at all the major entry points and could be manned with a single person and a basket.
Tossing in a euro coin would suffice for the rest of journey, no matter how long or however many legs, and cause no one with a daily commute across borders the ire to protest for an exemption nor cause the curious any reason not to wander and stray from the Autobahn at the next exit (those brown signs for attractions) for the inconvenience and expense of incurring another charge. There ought to be a system that allows spontaneity, unlike the multiple entry- and exit-points of France—entrusted to a contractor, and does not encourage worry about the tab, like Norway's clever system of just providing ones credit card and having the bill settled later by aggregating pictures of ones license plate. The tourism industry is made by detours as well as destinations.

sunday drive: antikmarkt

I like how the German word for antiques looks like antics, hijinx at the Flohmarkt. The more similar looking term Antiquität is sort of a false-friend as it generally means used books. On my way back to my work week apartment, I stopped at nearby antique market and saw many fine things but decided on something massive but hopefully practical, a heavy oak pedestal wrapped with an acanthus ornament. I am always on the look out for such things because we have quite a lot of figures and bronzes that deserve a proper home, but always seem to be without transportation, close at hand, whenever I find one at a bargain. Dancing Lady looks quite nice elevated as well but I think this stand will fit better, blend in at home.

ordnance survey

Greg Miller, writing for WIRED! Magazine, goes on a fun adventure down the rabbit hole to browse through the unusual stacks of a place called the Prelinger Library hidden in San Francisco. The suite of rooms that make up the archive is a repository of some 75,000 vintage maps and other hiatoric ephemera that map out quite specific and pointed aspects of their subjects and that most collections do not preserve. Space comes at a premium for all these weird and wonderful examples, but the librarians operate under the principle it only takes one of them to acquire a document but the consent of two to get rid of it. This looks like a place to discover for one's self too.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

OCONUS or rub-a-dub

Despite codifying the right of expatriation as a fundamental right of all citizens and more contemporary words (and ironic) of criticism for the only other nation in the world to tax its people on income earning world-wide, Eritrea, accusing the practice of presenting a grave economic disadvantage to the country's diaspora, who fled over war, civil-unrest and political persecution, and whose revenue goes involuntarily to support the regimes and conditions that forced them to leave, with a mantle of citizenship not easily doffed, the United States, under the guise of combating tax evasion—though small-holders compared to the billions of untapped wealth that corporate persons shuttle across boarders without taxes or tariffs, is aggressive in their publican activities.

Though only a small but growing percentage of the US population and even a miniscule number when counted against the six million Americans living overseas, some are choosing to renounce their citizenship, willing to forego pensions and patriotism, usually pedigreed with the belief that one's homeland is the best, to the disdain and sometimes even damage of all others. I think this decision is not taken lightly by anyone and is never over the burden of paperwork or over taxation with dubious representation, but moreover that the task of repatriation is put squarely on those financial institutions willing to serve foreigners, specifically Americans, and many banks are refusing to take on new clients over this administrative embargo and reporting onus. In a parallel story of wanting to shirk potential liabilities, the client bank used almost exclusively by the diplomatic community in London suddenly decided to drop all its consular business, to eliminate risks of potential future cross-boarder disputes, should it be determined that any of those embassies front a banking system that does not play by the rules. The abrupt loss of a bank for payroll, rents and schooling has caused chaos on Embassy Row as they scramble to find banks willing to take them. It is a complex situation—though a matter of choice and a luxury for American migration, and probably unduly confounded by US policy when the diplomacy of living abroad, something important surely, knocks up against the kettling of taxes and forms.

santo cáliz

Our little neighbourhood is having a little celebration with live music and a beer-tent called after the community's namesake, St. Lawrence—a Laurentiusfest. It falls on the weekend of his Saint Day and matyrdom. Originally hailing from Aragon, Lawrence went on to study theology and liberal arts at the university of Zaragoza where he became acquainted with Sixtus—the future pope. After completing his studies, the two traveled to Rome in the mid third century.  There Lawrence was ordained as a deacon of the Church and given the important office of treasurer, overseeing accounting for the inventory of artefacts (hence his patronage of librarians and accountants, records still exist showing where the diaspora of treasures ended up), donations and charitable disbursement.
All was thrown into disarray, however, when the Roman emperor demanded that the Church offer him all their treasure as tribute. Methodically, Lawrence was able to give away all Church property to the poor and when the legates of the emperor can to demand tribute, Lawrence presented them with the faithful and humble members of the community, announcing that the poor was the Church's greatest treasure and was far richer for them than the Empire will ever be. For this affront, the delegation grilled Lawrence alive on a gridiron (hence his patronage for roasters and comedians, supposedly having asked to be flipped over as he was done on one side). One particular item on the books, a cup hewn out of a piece of agate and regarded by many, including Pope Benedict XVI who used it during a Mass celebrated in the Cathedral of Valencia in 2006 and Pope John Paul II in 1982, as the genuine Chalice of Christ used at the Last Supper, the Holy Grail, Lawrence saw fit to entrust to a soldier who was on his way from Rome back to Lawrence's homeland by the Pyrenees. The soldier delivered the relic to Lawrence's parents, and has been since preserved and venerated in various monasteries and churches in Spain, mostly quietly and without the Hollywood treatment or the romance (though with no less reverence) associated with the other contenders for this vessel.

Friday, 9 August 2013

speakeasy or mayor mac cheese

Via Slate Magazine, we find out that the kids' menu is not merely an extension of the atavism of adult palettes—to the same level of maturity for refinement, or an attempt to inculcate young and impressionable adherents but rather come from a strange mix in America of medicine, morality and marketing.

Prohibition really opened the doors to the younger crowd and created the concept of the family restaurant. Prior to America's ban on alcohol consumption, restaurants not embedded in a hotel generally did not serve children—a phrase from whence similar punchlines stem, because they tended to be in the way and interfered with the imbibing of adult-beverages, still today any restaurant's biggest profit-maker. In order to make up for lost revenues, restauranteurs looked to catering to family-units. Unaccustomed to making dining out an experience for the youngsters too, parents needed to be presented with a certain level of reassurance, a fare for children that seemed safe and balanced, given all sorts of fretful ideas swirling with nutritional and age-appropriate foods. Compared to the gourmet dishes adults were served, kids got basically bland and safe concoctions—nothing to inspire returning when they reached dining majority, the meals were dictated by the prevailing pedagogical thoughts of the times—nothing too challenging or threatening for immature tastes nor anything indulgent. I wonder how the consequent moon-shining affected the public psyche.  The industry trend has shifted these days to a denominator of guilty-pleasures, it seems.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

meibutsu or mitbringsel

Via one of my new favourite peripatetic websites, Nag on the Lake, comes an introduction to an aspiring company that will deliver a hand-selected assortment of tasteful and meaningful souvenirs from places that the recipient is not likely to have visited—yet. As of now, only two cities are represented, Seoul, South Korea and Tehran, Iran—and rather more than a just gift-basket, I think it is a pretty keen and surprising way to get to know a place. I am hoping that the enterprise is able to include more obscure (well, exotic) destinations and offer a slice of culture to pique the interests of travelers. Meibutsu is a Japanese term for regional mementos exchanged to showcase local colour, and Mitbringsel is the German equivalent of the French souvenir, literally “with a take-away.”

redux or fe-fi-furlough II

While I am very happy that the forced vacation of the majority of Defense Department workers ending some the hardships incurred on individuals and families and the discontinuity of work, faced now with the alternative, layoffs and a reduction in force seem even more unpalatable.

As for the rest of the the US government, I am not sure how the posture is affected. Part of me thinks (surely the prophet of doom part) that the department should have let it run its course, since the military is seeming less and less credible in its estimation of consequences—in some eyes right now: the warnings were most dire, grounding fleets and ships and making America vulnerable defensively and offensively, which according to outside perspectives, did not come to pass and the scope of the furlough was steadily revised downward, until all but eliminated through some tricks of accounting. Cuts in pay and hours of work were never the solution and seeing the threat through to prove a point is just as bad as the stubborn political brinksmanship that pushed the budget crisis and the follow-on effects in the first place. A temporary reprieve, however, may prove to be a cost no one can afford later down the line. I am sure real cost-savings were far in the negative range and the balance of sequestration remains. No deal on the budget is forthcoming and relations and realities have not improved. Savings—or at least the show thereof, will have to be excised from elsewhere, and politics, prone to the usual array of interests that can subvert the public-good, surely will prevail and fail.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

plakate or post no bills

I had the chance to visit a pretty neat and inspired exhibit hosted by the city archives of three decades of local posters, documenting the history of all sorts of cultural movements through a select series.
I had the gallery all to myself and it was quite the place and time for reflection about the power of the printed and kerned word. It was nice to pass along the history, with its notes of nostalgia and anachronism. The exhibit included the workspaces of designers and some governing guidance on expression via this medium with some clever and memorable aphorisms about print and its endurance from respected typographer for the New York Herald Tribune, Beatrice Warde, accomplished and influential at foreign desks and domestic bureaus alike.
It proved to be a very arresting display, however limited to the point of view of one city that saw its perspective recede year after year—as a natural consequence of macroscopic changes. In the quiet and walking past a hand full of staff who did not notice my presence beyond their monitors, I also had the opportunity to explore the rest of the facility and examine the stacks and shelves of this office charged with remembering. It was strange to be able to wander unnoticed but I suppose visitors are rare and usually not without a defined mission, and it is interesting to ponder what kind of genealogy one's residence takes in.

cantina or meatless mondays

Members of the Green Party coalition of the German parliament are urging workplace canteens (cafeterias or Mensen) offer and promote on one day a week vegetarian fare, in the name of environmental sustainability and health and to introduce those never otherwise habituated to the idea of reducing consumption of animal products.

I am a vegetarian myself—and thank goodness cigarettes and wine don't have any meat, but certainly one others might find objectionable because I love cheese, occasionally eat fish or take milk in my coffee, have a hard-boiled egg with breakfast once and awhile, have no compunction against shoe-leather, and so realise the challenge of imposing one's standards on others and would myself feel imposed upon if I felt I needed to justify my diet to others or was restricted, despite all the benefits that go along with a change for the better. The proposal has become somewhat of a rallying point for opponents, accusing the Green Party of paternalism and indoctrination—perhaps inspiring as much of an outcry as the other current, election-season outrages. Though commonplace here, what I think is even more interesting is that the German workplaces have a venue to raise these issues in the first place. De facto, any sizable office or factory has a professional dining place with dishes that at minimum are restaurant-quality (verging on gourmet at times) at very reasonable prices, sometimes for a stipend for the employees—and any one can utilize these mess halls. Sometimes I have lunch at neighbouring government office and have never been wanting for a healthy selection. That is not something that one finds everywhere.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

domesday or decimate

Many municipalities across Germany, but particularly in the smaller Länder, are poised to challenge the findings of the national census conducted back in 2011 but the results of the number-crunching have not been previewed until recently. Despite very cautious calculations and withholding of demographics until outcomes were relatively certain—not revealed for two years, the canvasing has provoked dispute, as federal funding is proportional to population and many places are seeing their accustomed support cut, maintaining that the sampling method was biased and did not retrieve an accurate picture of their population. There is no talk of gerrymandering in the complaint, and while I am far from having full-faith in the demographic process, I do wonder what standards elicited both the results and the follow-on dissent.

angel investors

Just days after the Pope condemned the “cult of money” and materialism before the masses on Copacabana beach and urged greater charity and above all a re-prioritisation of what counts, Archbishop Welby of the Anglican faith has posed a similar challenge to the predatory pay-loan business in the United Kingdom and around the world, whose loan-sharking has become the first and last opportunity for many the poor who fall behind on their bills. Welby goes the industry one better, throwing down the gauntlet in this article from Der Spiegel International and directly compete against these pawn-brokers with opening credit-unions after a fashion, a each of their branches—parishes to give the public more of a choice and better terms and conditions and without the usual or expect stint. It is difficult sometimes to separate church and treasure, but I think these open declarations of competition could prove significant and realise a surplus of good.

Monday, 5 August 2013

thread, riser and nosing

The World Geography has an amazing collection of breath-taking staircases from around the world.  The images really presented an embarrassment of choices, the likes of which I never imagined existed or would be primed to race up and down. It was hard to pick just one image: find out more about this Moses Bridge Stairs in the Netherlands, the Stage of Dreams in Japan, the stepwell in Jaipur India and the pedestrian rollercoaster, the Tiger and Turtle in Duisburg, Germany at the link.  Be sure to check out the website for more galleries devoted to outstanding themes.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

sunday drive: flohmarkt

On way way back to begin the workweek, just one turn away from my apartment, I was redirected by signs for a massive monthly flea market. Passing through the parking area, I saw that the Omani Sultanate's diplomatic mission to Germany could not resist a good sale either. Perhaps they had some tschotskies to unload. I was first exposed to this distinctive license plate a few weeks ago on seeing a fancy fleet of sedans stop on a side-street in my neighbourhood while walking to the local grocery store, and curious, discovered what the null meant on car tags. I sprinted up and down the endless aisles and found just one piece that caught my eye—a little silver-plate bowl that is proving somewhat of a mystery.

It is marked REP. NEOVEDA 20 and bears the insignia of a face in a halo of rays. I could only determine that it was a German manufacturer of the 1930s and 1940s and the twenty referred to a low silver-content in the plate. As the sellers were already starting to pack up their wares, I had a bonus in the deal of wooden Moco weather station (I am not sure if the barometer and hygrometer still work but I liked the type-face) and a generic restaurant coffee service.

abc's and 123's

Slate has an excerpt from Daniel Tammet's new book on thinking in numbers, in which the author experiences the cultural nuance, chiefly while visiting Iceland, where amounts are treated as something qualitative as well as quantitative and not something separate and abstract.
For the numbers one through five, there are different forms for years, sheep (it reminds me of the shepherd’s rhyme and special number system for counting sheep and stitches for knitting—Yan Tan Tethera, and probably also useful for sending someone off to slumber-land), people, naming trains and highways and houses—reflecting declination and something categorical that has no equivalent English despite the occasional encounter with twain, deuce, score and murder of crows, a gaggle of geese, etc. The fourth sheep is called something like “Sheep Number Four,” as if it were a city-bus—preserving a sense of cardinal bias, something not strictly ordinal, since four follows three only by the reckoning of the counter, unlike the passage of time. Bigger numbers are not elaborated in the same kind of way. I would like to read this book and find out how ways of counting influence the cognitive process and possible assumptions made about the significance upon encountering the unusual.