Thursday, 31 October 2013

pot to kettle or once bitten

The US Treasury scolded Germany's economic policies and growth model with a barrage of seemingly well-crafted but empty soundbites that smack of some quasi-political, talking-head segment content-generator. The response of the German minister of finance of “incomprehensible” seemed more than apt, as the EU economic powerhouse suddenly found itself elevated above China and Japan as the usual prime targets of America's lecturing, pummeled with flowery-phrases the strongly criticised their apparent reliance on exports rather than concentrate on increasing domestic consumption.

Some how, this shift is supposed to help the rest of the Euro Zone pull out of its malaise, but I believe that Germany already is tapping its surpluses and success—albeit maybe not to the right degree—by helping to finance the burdens many European debtor nations have been saddled with, thanks in part to the tantalising, easy credit of US policies. One could argue that Germany's windfall comes at the expense of partner nations, but it seems to me that the complaint, considering the source—a former exporter that has out-sourced and off-shored most of that talent in favour of trying to oversee trade, that this forum is becoming more of an overture to malingerers (the EU having already been burnt by a flirtation in earnest with collapse and devolution), to adopt dissolute debt, which already shy to such schemes the EU is strongly against. Euros are awarded an effete and scholarly regard, unlike the dollar, and can neither be created nor destroyed by the constituency. Compounded with the unresolved conflicts over espionage and its creative justifications, it seems the US should not venture further.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

vulgate or under lock and key

There are reports circulating that American intelligence services monitored and profiled the Pope during the highly secretive and sequestered Conclave, in order to assess the candidate's views on human rights and international relations and postures on US financial interests and overall direction of leadership.

Others among the suffragans and fore-runners were apparently targets of interest as well. It is already enough that there's spying on the mangy masses and secular leaders, friend and foe whether goals are mutual, compatible or at odds, but elevated to this level invites the audacity to imagine, whether or not implied, that observation smugly includes influence on the outcome. Other contests seem fixed and faked and only an elaborate exercise to appease the public, only undermined by such intense and covert scrutiny, but the perpetration at this height is too bold with its attributed paternalism. What do you think? Is this finally one step too far?

orient express

This week saw the inaugural train-ride under the waters of the Marmara Sea at the Straits of the Bosporus, linking the European and Asian parts of Istanbul with submerged tube line.
This ambitious project, engineered with the assistance of Norwegian and Japanese planners, has taken a decade to complete and opens several years behind schedule—due almost exclusively, however, to preservation efforts to safely retrieve the trove of artefacts, ancient finds from Roman, Byzantine and earlier eras, including shipwrecks and the sunken ancient harbour of the city. There have been other means of bridging the continents since, including the poor nymph Io, a victim of one of Zeus' many liaisons, who he turned into a cow in order to hide her from his jealous wife. Hera, however, saw through this deception and condemned the shamed nymph to wonder the earth, tormented by a relentless gadfly that prodded her onwards, never resting.
Io came to Asia at these narrows, whose name signifies her crossing, like Oxford (oder Oschenfurt)--that is where a cow could ford the waters, and eventually met another unfortunate, Prometheus, punished for giving mankind the gifts of foresight and fire. The tortured god told Io to travel to Egypt where she regained her human form.  The city, straddling both worlds, continued to represent a limit and a point of transition—more recently, a grand hall of a former railway station on Istanbul's modern harbour stands as the remains of the end-station of the fabled Orient Express, beginning in Paris. To travel further east, passengers would disembark here and take ferries to board trains of the Ottoman railways across the straits.

Monday, 28 October 2013

eagle's nest

The relative silence by the American media regarding its native intelligence agencies and their forays abroad is deafening. There are bits of domestic coverage that are mostly of an apologetic nature—other Anglophone outlets are understandably taciturn as well—but nothing of a hard-hitting or challenging nature from very pedestrian news sources.

There is an element of back-peddling, downplaying who knew what and when, the postulate that all nations conduct themselves in the same way—or would like to, that Europeans ought to be grateful to the US for keeping them safe or that the German chancellor uses in fact more than one mobile device—like many, and continued (justified) criticism that the chancellor, upon the premature advice of her intelligence chief that the scandal was over, was not overly concerned about the spying on regular hoi polloi until it got personal. Der Spiel (DE) with significant contributions from the Reuters service (EN), however unnoticed by US journalists presents a very comprehensive piece on the background and latest developments. Despite whatever graceful exits that might be suggested, the fact that the US Mission to Germany, its embassy in Berlin (built in 2008) just beyond the Brandenburg Gate from the Chancellery and consulates in Frankfurt am Main, Bonn and Leipzig, are outfitted with roof-top signals and reconnaissance stations seems rather indisputable. Even after the revelations of Cable-Gate, I was under the impression that diplomacy was not to be a den of spying, to whatever end, and that there were serious consequences for the violation.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

poker-face or encephalisation quotient

Around a century ago in Berlin, local audiences, including scientists and emperors and the international public was coming to terms with what the latest object of fascination, much more than a side-show curiosity meant in terms of not only intelligence but for psychology. Around a decade prior, a school teacher, amateur phrenologist and some what of a charismatic, Wilhelm von Osten, bought a horse to hitch to a carriage he had had his eyes on. The stall available to him in the working-class neighbourhood of Berlin where he lived was too narrow to accommodate both beast and buggy and it turned out it the area was not the best to prance about, and so not discouraged, he undertook to teach his horse arithmetic, after repeated and at first accidental displays of precocity.
The world, still reveling from the recent publication of Charles Darwin's theories, had become engrossed with the idea of animal intelligence, and Mr. von Osten was more and more convinced that he had discovered the genuine article. With outstanding accuracy, the horse, Clever Hans (der Kluge Hans, after the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale), amazed audiences by clopping out answers to unscripted mathematical problems. The duo were a sensation and once learning that the Prussian emperor would have private audience, a scientific commission was called in order to avoid any royal embarrassment. The group, which included a top professor of psychology, a circus director, veterinarians and biologists, could find no explanation to the mysterious prodigy but also were convinced no trickery was involved. Besides, although he gained much fame, Mr. von Osten never charged admission or any other fees for his demonstrations.
The show continued, although, sadly Mr. von Osten died, under a new proctor, a business man who had studied von Osten's stage-presence and was enjoying some success in soliciting correct answers from Clever Hans. Hans' new owner even gathered a menagerie in a sort of equine classroom so Hans could impart his knowledge to others. The professor, however, who participated in the first commission was still mystified and launched a second investigation, this time with his students. Eventually termed the “Clever Hans Effect,” they slowly determined that the animals were quite clever though not in the ways the questioners had hoped, but rather became very good at reading body-language and non-verbal cues too subtle for audiences or skeptics to notice otherwise in order to get praise and rewards. It was a bit of a let down and Hans and his classmates were conscripted as war-horses and their fate is unknown. This effect, of course, affects all sorts of investigations and our ticks and tells give away a lot. It is funny to think also how well pets have their owners trained.

conspicuous consumption oder bishop of bling

Just on the heels of the Pope's overtures to Church leaders that culture must change and priests must rather be engaged with their communities and demonstrate charity, rather than living in Ivory Towers, it was revealed that the price for new residence for the Bishop of Limburg had swelled to some thirty-one million euro and included several architectural vanities. Of this extravagance and complaints of the bishop's autocratic, stand-offish leadership style, the Pope moved to place the bishop on indefinite administrative leave, while this matter could be sorted out. The Church has announced that the building will either be used as a home for refugees (Flüchtlingslager) or a soup-kitchen (Suppenküche) for the poor.

revolving-door

Reading an insightful article from the New York Times, at the recommendation of the watchdog group Corporate Observatory Europe concerning the metastasising lobbying-culture that America has helped introduced to the European Union and while the trend is most disturbing, I paused to wonder in today's environment where hypocrisies are immediately exposed (and though sometimes buried again right away but the truth will out, always) and only muddied by spin and ideologues whose sophistry is only grounded in commissions if such pressures and duplicity actually still meant anything. Bad behaviour and half-truths once uncovered become rather indefensible, like that other American commodity of surveillance, which has rendered secrecy and respect irrelevant. Does it matter that legislation is bullied or lubricated by influence-peddlers when their roles are subject to more and more public displays and outfitted with corporate logos like NASCAR racers and other niche sports before their audiences?

We all know who the puppet-masters are, even if the free-press is not sacrosanct neither. It is rather telling, however, of the troupes of legal-eagles entrenched in Brussels, making a corridor of lobby groups around the halls of power, have introduced recruitment of former politicians, fresh out of office, to ply their know-how, whereas before this was not a common practise, representatives content to retire or harmlessly play the grey-imminence to younger generations. As voters grow wise to these culture-shift that blurs the distinction between corporate and public interests, I hope that relaxing of standards and changing of priorities become harder to hide from view. Democratic processes and due review cannot simply become something of a show, a formality to be overcome, and hopeful the combined lag of bureaucracy on a super-national level, frustrating as it can be sometimes, can work also to uncover and slow the work of lobbyists.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

mcjob

Though by no means limited to a single industry, demographic or the exclusive bailiwick of American exports, since there is wage stagnation to be found everywhere, the bight of mobility and want of jobs with career potential, sustainable beyond the ken of economic and class nostalgia, the glut of low-salary, abusive labour mills, the flagships of the US business model are presenting a particular threat, to the workers directly but also to the public made to subsidise the employers' bad behaviour.

A vestige of concern of concern would have been a nice gesture for those workers already faced with indentured servitude, not making ends meet but depressingly just scraping together enough to keep lenders and landlords at bay until next month, but one company's bootstrap services are not even that. Rather, in a calculated move to keep overhead low and profits high, such a life-line is a conduit to push workers (and presumably only those that have demonstrated enough desperate loyalty and competence to keep on since it is not available to all) to having their salaries supplemented by the public weal. Such workers are pushed towards welfare benefits to supplement their negative income, in turn costing tax-payers some billions annually. Combine this tactic with the practise of shaving off a few hours off their weekly schedules in order that they not be counted as full-time employees for health insurance purposes (though the same corporate entities are the most vociferous voices against reforming social programmes), it is no surprise that we are becoming mired in this mess and it is becoming a cycle for too many.

laocoön

Reviewing the new work, Art as Therapy, by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong for the excellent repository and point-of-departure for big thoughts, Brain-Pickings, writer Maria Popova presents a brilliant and scholarly synopsis of the authors' treatment of the psychology of artistic expression in seven acts.

Punctuated by pithy and profound quotations, the functional examination of art as the container of memory, hopefulness, empathy, reconciliation and maturity that is bigger than us, the article reminded me of the treatise on the aesthetic on the statue and story of Laocoön and his Sons (depicting a tragedy from antiquity—punished by the victor-gods for trying to warn their fellow Trojans about Greeks bearing gifts, this priceless and unique piece was dug up from someone's yard not so long ago and then acquired by the Vatican, where it is on display) by classicist Gotthold Lessing. Lessing's argument about the bounds of art with rules of engagement, though engrossing and lucid, however, is rather like looking in the wrong end of a telescope in comparison to the comprehensive healing and therapeutic appreciation of art, accessible and provoking in another sort of way. This essay and excerpts certainly make me want to read the entire the book and think on what shortcomings, universal endowments and limitations that we all have to deal with to one degree or another but are all as apt to enhancement and overcoming through tools and techniques--this subject being a kind of tool as well, that art takes us beyond.

kettling or policeman's ball

The Russian Times is covering an international law enforcement convention in Philadelphia, where one of the distrurbing trends emerging is increase partnership between social-media utilities and police departments with the express and open-ended goal of hindering the right to assembly through the ability to censor content and upstarts deemed to be of a criminal or at least of a (potentially) peace-disrupting nature. While such collaborative efforts could reduce the ability for organised criminal syndicates to use the internet as a platform, like cyber highwaymen whose threat is greatly conflated and peddlers of hate that use these forums, this sort of alliance, already taking place in fits and starts, would do more to quell protests and promote the status quo, ignorance and misinformation. Of course, it does not stop with stopping rallies but I suppose such selectivity would necessarily extend to any unflattering portrayal or revelation regarding the giants of industry, in terms of health, safety and equity. Patently, it would become more and more difficult for organisers to mobilise support for movements and to distribute information that has not received the stamp-of-approval from the competent-authorities.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

gelauscht oder tapped-out

Though no justification nor condolence, pardon moi for thinking that it had already been established that nothing is sacred and not privy to prying eyes and ears, and duly elected and appointed official truly have little control over the the culture of aggregated accretion of powers that have grown and sprawled in the name of security, frankness aside—like Angela Merkel's own Intelligence Chief, who could not account for the native agency's collaboration with America's.

There is nonetheless a distinct chill in the air, what with the litany of complaints and welling distrust surfacing. Although just tremolo-outrage surfaced when it was first suggested that Germany as a whole was siphoned through the safety-apparatuses of the States, compared to the latest revelations, the upward-osmosis and excess of raw data is disturbing. As no terrorist, of course, she or any one of us have nothing to fear, or so we are schooled to believe at the edges of exchanging indignation for appreciation of small courtesies, but again the spectre is raised—beyond a reasonable expectation of privacy or respect and transparency—of economic espionage, a read-ahead, that pits European values against American national interests. It is hard to say what ramifications such affronts might present? What do you think? Could this kind of largesse lead to a mass retreat, withdrawal—from NATO, from other contemporaneous treaties?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

gaydar

Surely intolerance breeds intolerance, and no brown-skinned person is not subject to a host of speculation and profiling—or downright unwelcome for asylum-seekers, whenever in public in a place where he or she is other than the majority, but redoubling efforts do not solve prejudice.
Rather blamelessly and unabashed, a certain ministry of health official has boasted that their country has developed a screening- tool, a conflated medical test of undetermined techniques, for homosexual, transgender and cross-dressing potential visitors in order to deny them entry to the that country and the broader states in the region. The country, already heavily reliant on guest-workers, requires medical testing for applicants and proposes to simply add this to the battery—for a population attracted by the often disappointing lure of employment for people from desperate lands, without the luxury to be otherwise, where stigmatised for real, perceived or rejected identities. It's a dicey subject that has not been without other champions to a greater or lesser degree, but I don't think such a stance is really representative of any diaspora, where discrimination is no gateway to respect. Besides, it seems that we all ought to have learned how dangerous such a path can be and not something to dismiss.

diabolique

A few months ago, I learned about the interesting medieval folk-etymology, as it were, of attributing feats of human engineering and architecture to the Devil. Certainly a peasant would be struck with disbelief upon first encounter with some of the robust and precarious ramparts and bulwarks of civil design.

I came across another example recently, though I am not sure if the legend and name was meant more than figuratively, in the Devil's Sentry-Box, perched on a ravelin on the imposing citadel of Sisteron. To construct this bunker with a commanding (vertigo-inducing) view atop the river Durance and opposite the other-worldly cliff formation of le Rocher de la Baume, it's said cost the master-mason his soul.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

aroma-therapy or lavender fields forever

Though I did not know until we arrived in Provence, the land and its craft really compliments the reputation that I am quietly garnering, only famous—as it were, to a few, as a crazy oil person.
There is no English equivalent for eine Kräuterhexe, which is a much more apt term. Driving through the countryside, we saw endless rows of lavender, shorn a bit as if it already had been harvested but everything smelled fresh and tranquil—if not a bit spinsterish but in a rustic and good way, and the source of one of my many potions. Unschooled and still learning about their application though I am, I do have the equipment, a starter set of essential oils (Ätherische Öle) with a little pouch of spells I carry with me, like the utility belt of the conjurer character Getafix from the Astérix le Gaulois saga (plus a diffusing gadget at home). Needless to say, with this air, I found very little need to sniff, supplement or to otherwise get a fix. Later, we visited the city of Grasse, another surprise, discovering that this metropolis of perfumes was instrumental in plying the trade, workshops perfecting the techniques to extract and distill the essence of aromas.
Despite still learning, I found myself already thinking how I could build a boiler and how hard it might be to produce my own oils and what other olfactory powers might be needed to complete my quiver. Lavender, incidentally, is promoted by homeopathic practitioners as a mood-stabiliser, as well as attending to a host of other problems from moths in the closet to allergies to sensitive skin but like any medicine is not magic and no panacea—meaning pan-prescription.

charter house, road house

Our journey homeward took an unexpected but pleasant turn through the Chartreuse Mountains near Grenoble, that lends its name to the monastic order of the Carthusians (Kartause, originally the Order of Saint Bruno of Köln), who are renown for their eponymous liqueur. It would have been short-shrift to visit without adequate time or preparation but we did get a bottle to sample later and are excited about seeing the region properly, next time.

French alchemists working for the royal court invented the secret blend of 130 herbs and plant-derivatives as an elixir of long-life and chartered the monks with producing the tonic and safeguarding the recipe, which is still only known to two living brothers at a time. It did not register to me at first, but we saw this cordial being served as an after-dinner digestif, with its distinctive yellow-to-green pale, also lending its name to the colour chartreuse. We understand that the taste is to cover quite a spectrum as well, ranging from tangy to sweet to spicy. Though the potion may not exactly provide the sough-after immortality, the alchemists and the monks surely must be on to something as chartreuse has the rare characteristic of improving with age and survived a rather colourful odyssey, remaining true to character and countering pretenders, throughout tumultuous ages.

salve regina

Marian elements and iconography have always played a significant role in religious architecture and are a common appellation, perhaps most famously in Notre Dame de Paris.
A great many places have churches and shires similarly dedicated to Our Lady but I was surprised to find it is not all that uncommon in the Provence to find sites not decorated with spires and steeples but an actual, sometimes colossal figure of Mary (absent from the most noted examples), like these dominating structures in Nyons in the Drôme, the courtyard of the Papal Palace (the so-called Babylonian Captivity) that transported the seat of popes and anti-popes from Rome to Avignon for a century during the late Middle Ages, or this presiding church on this high natural rocky pillar watching over the Verdon valley in Castellane.
Sometimes these glorious statutes were later additions and certainly not all buildings of worship (even those with the same devotionals) have the personification, so I wonder if there is some impetus, the recollection of a forgotten apparition, a sighting, or a particular miracle behind this statuary.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

aus dessus des vieux volcans or le grand bleu


PfRC will be taking a much needed sabbatical soon. In the meantime, please stay-tuned to our little travel blog for continued adventures. Same cheesy time, same cheesy station. Fromage, fromage.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

federalist papers or pensions and bounties

Here is a very interesting and engrossing read regarding the imminent debt-ceiling hanging over the US economy and reputation through the lens of legal opining and historical context from economist Bruce Bartlett.

The essay and analysis is not just one's usual recant of doom and gloom (however later well justified) but uses the current shutdown showdown as a point of departure to study the roots of the statutory and constitutional strictures. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution contains a clause that makes public debt inviolable, inviting a way around the impasse—whose language and adoption was a direct outcome of the US Civil War when the recently re-incorporated confederate states were disinclined to contribute to Union outlays. There are differences of opinions whether such an argument can be invoked. Brokers like to accentuate the uncertain, since the movement of investments is how they make money, gleaning surcharges off the top, and as default becomes a sure thing, there are quite a few ideas here (particularly the inability for a government to truly prioritise obligations) to keep in mind.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

if you want the thrill of love, i've been through the mill of love

In a surprising move, the diocese of Freiburg, under the leadership of the chairman of the German conference of bishops, has suggested that the Church doctrine of denying sacrament to congregants who divorce and then re-marry should no longer be applied universally, surely to set a precedent though disregarded by many already. Earlier attempts to change this attitude were shot down by none other than the former Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and this announcement is not exactly carte-blanche for those whose life-plans change, still importantly subject to counsel and reflection, but the move still represents a significant concession to welcome back into the fold many of whom were shut out

dowager or could you borrow me a dime?

Fiat currency, money, is in essence debt—that is why it bears the instructions “legal tender for all debts public and private,” and the capacity for governments to print, conjure more money is a function of their ability to incur more debt.

Financial houses, with the blessings of their host-governments, create investment instruments that telescope That relationship, in turn, is one based solely on trust, lest one begs usurious interest rates or hyper-inflation over confidence and reputation lost. Not only do opportunists stand to realise losses over this dicey negotiation, forced to demand ever higher collateral and receding promissory-notes and not knowing if they'll ever see these loans liquidated (through it's sufficient just in the off-putting in general) but also those pensioners and small-holders who contributed without stint to a nest-egg deferred. Risk-takers, naturally, assume a fair return on their investments, as in any scenario where an institution is exposed, perhaps overly so, to a board. One can only hope that if there is any license for dictates and demands, they are considered from all stake-holders, regardless of size and heft.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

rushmore syndrome

There is a name and rather long history, it seems, associated with the closure of popular and highly visible attractions and programmes in the midst of a budget crisis—whether or not the cordoning-off has anything to materially do with the financial issue at hand.
Like using teachers, soldiers, first responders or 9/11 as fodder for another volley, the so called Washington Monument or Mount Rushmore Syndrome has been invoked time and time again, by politicians of all stripes either to sugar-coat unpopular riders or to demonstrate that good civics cannot necessarily pick and choose cosier services to the exclusion of others. Such actions, however, are more than symbolic considering, despite the toolishness and visitors and caretakers affected and whose weariness and frustrations are mounting, that the cobbling together of concessions, without real compromise or earnest efforts to address the root of galloping and perennial problems, has gone on for years—absent a showdown or truce.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

grundeinkommen oder tres BIEN

Swiss voters may get the chance to decide on a referendum later next month to extend a basic, living wage to all its adults, an allowance for all, regardless whether working or not. Supporters of the movement, called Generation Basic Income (part of the francophone campaign known Basic Income European Network, BIEN) has dumped and swept around some fifteen tonnes of five centime coins in square in front of the parliamentary building in Bern, eight million—one for every citizen of Switzerland, to call attention to their efforts.
The group does not want to make it an option, an incentive not to work (in fact limited trials in developing nations showed that the only demographic to work less was new parents, who could devote more time to childcare and teenagers who were able to focus more on education, and there was a significant increase in creative entrepreneurship) or supplant, replace welfare and other social safety-nets (though some advocates say the measures would if passed, allow for a smaller government as well), but rather to introduce some level of income equality that guarantees individuals the right to get-by—especially at times when household microeconomics are prone to threats from larger, more global events, and help stop the cycle of poverty that's usually passed down from generation to generation.

enumerated powers


valle perturbante

Via the ever-excellent Boing Boing comes a preview from Dangerous Minds of the soon to be published of a new edition of the bizarre, Hieronymus Bosch-like, Fantastic Planet illustrated manuscript called the Codex Seraphinianus.
The work is similar to other mysterious codices and artefacts, like the Voynich Manuscript, Carl Jung's Red Books or the Nebra Skydisk, subject to much speculation and wonder, except that the author, Luigi Seraphini, is still very much around—he has only been rather silent about his meaning, hundred of plates picturing alternate and alien biologies and taxologies written in a secret language that place the familiar business of anthropology, mechanics and natural sciences in highly unusual settings.
Seraphini, having first released the book in 1981, went so far as to claim there was no meaning behind his work, but I don't think anyone believes that. The review explores the enduring fandom and following the manuscript has garnered during the information age and perhaps how such an abstraction previsioned it.   More strange imagines are to be found at the link above and one is invited to guess at the meaning. Readers can order the new book from Rizzoli Publishing House later in the month of October.

Friday, 4 October 2013

honeypot or carry on constable

Since 2007, law enforcement in the United Kingdom has gotten into the spreading practice of using lures and decoys to apprehend burglars in the form of Capture Houses and Bait Cars. There is a strange and indefinable feeling of entrapment or pre-crime to this tactic, though I wouldn't actually say it makes me think neighbourhoods are not better served by rounding up more of a certain element, but one has to wonder about the defenseless, anomalous households and whether such easy targets might not present some not otherwise inclined with a gateway target.

After casing the joint for sometime, finding the home to be predictably empty and outfitted with only the usual array of security and deterrents, chains and bolts and lights on a timer (though I suppose attentive neighbours might always prove the best offense), the perpetrator would be greeted with usual tantalizing array of electronics in a setting meant to appear lived in. The home, a freestanding unit, row-house or a flat in a sizable apartment-block, has been vacant for sometime—idle except for an impressive lot of surveillance devices that the police have contracted experts to install in these simulacra that fully document and tag the thieves, probably also revealing something about best-practices in burglary and loot-liquidation. Elsewhere, law enforcement agencies have even mocked up store-fronts to bait would-be robbers. It is quite surreal to think about how that quiet apartment or fly-by-night operation constantly under new management might not be what they seem at all, but more like a hunting blind.

static or if these walls could talk

Apparently allowed four hours like every other non-essential federal employee to prepare for an orderly shutdown, update out-of-office automatic replies and voice mail instructions, the Voyager 2 space probe, as it is poised to leave the Solar System, messaged, poignantly:
“Farewell, Humans—you'll have to sort this one out yourselves.” Like always, NASA could be noising-off all sorts of fascinating things, like following up on that teaser byline about a exo-planet with an atmosphere comprised of water in an exotic plasma state or the timing of the admission by the Russian Ministry of Defense that it is woefully unprepared to protect the Earth from attacks by extra-terrestrials—to say nothing of the suspension of reporting on asteroids hurtling towards Earth. That is not to say government institutions have a monopoly on research and exploration or that the progress and inspiration of science hinges alone of social-media, but it does seem like a very precarious set-back.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

full faith and credit

Survey says that many Americans have a negative—or at least skeptical opinion about the Affordable Care Act, probably because such a mandate to look out for someone's better interests is novel and has been subject to a lot of besmirchment by ideologues that disagree with its implementation.

And although the law and enforcement may not be perfect and all find it unsavoury to ransom America's already diminished reputation through a battle of the wills, there does not seem a more virtuous insistence than to champion universal health coverage and bring US public welfare more in line with the rest of the world. This contention seems even more righteous especially considering that that the plan is already law, vetted through the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government—and though without unanimous agreement (no Republicans supported the bill but that's part and parcel of the democratic process), negotiations and compromise have limned the act's final form, it being not entirely what the administration hoped to gift to the public, replete with exemptions for businesses and delays for being in compliance (for companies but not for individuals) strong-armed by the opposing party. It seems the Republicans got the concessions they demanded already and now want to do more to threaten the spirit of the law.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

pollster or keep calm and carry on

One would think given the virtual omnipresence of America's spying-apparatus, some one in the US government—with influence—might have had an inkling at least of how unpopular and damagingly disruptive a government shutdown and the emergency furlough to follow would prove. Enough studious bureaucrats were wringing their hands over it for days, working frantically, mongering rumours and nursing disbelief to gauge public reaction and sentiment. For that matter, one would think that the intelligence agencies would have had some insider-knowledge and could have predicted the stalemate in the legislature and where the cracks are forming in each side's stance and whom will eventually give in. Though non-essential services have been curtailed, time is still of the essence and only after one full day of this new reality, panic and doom is setting in. As for the households directly impacted, dreading a pay-check even docked by a few days' pay that may never materialise because money is tight mostly already spent, the mounting inconveniences that lurk after funding is appropriated with weeks of catch-up, shuttered monuments, parks and museums, and science projects put on hold weren't already reason enough to find a quick resolution—there are attendant consequences.
Among the knock-on worries are the Federal Depositors' Insurance Commission (FDIC) being incapacitated and unable to launch any new investigations should a bank declare bankruptcy, the potential for delays in ship- and airfreight for a nation warehoused with vulnerable, interdependent just-in-time systems or that the federal courts will exhaust remaining funds in ten days or so. A few days more and business and the exchanges will begin to commiserate as well as more and more deadlines are trounced. So much for omnipotence, I guess.

limes or probeaufführung, échantillon, prova

Just prior to the plebiscite to keep in place mandatory military conscription in the Alpine nation, Swiss authorities revealed that the army staged some war games, called Operation Duplex-Barbara, whose scenario seems creative if not outlandish but contingencies for such threats probably are not too far-fetched if not outright prudent.

Planners imagined borders breached by hordes of citizens from a bankrupt and fractured France, desperate to retrieve pilfered treasure. The Swiss are not alone in these preparations— in company with America, who has been quietly protecting similar domestic fall-out should there be a economic collapse, and just last year, Switzerland carried out a larger scale, more public and political exercise, called Stabilo Due, to practice girding itself for potential waves of financial refugees should the surrounding monetary union of the euro become untenable. Meanwhile in Poland, former prime minister and architect of the Solidarity Movement, Lech Wałęsa suggests that Germany and Poland should unite, forgetting their pasts and an overture beyond his former calls for an Eastern Europe more oriented towards the West, musing that technological advances have made national less relevant and shuttle people, identities and activities far beyond their home countries.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

it could happen here

Dum, dum, dum—Slate Magazine introduces what promises to be a brilliant series of lampoons describing American politics in terms and with the tutting tone traditionally employed by journalists for limning the situation in distant lands, unfortunately inexhaustible as well.
The first vignette is of course on the curious case of the government shut-down, which probably seems to the rest of the world as it unfolds as some arcane, secretarial matter to be resolved directly. This spot of bother, which is in fact a manufactured crisis, does seem anomalous and dressed in peculiarities of national laws, sort of like day-light savings time being out of sync, non-residential taxation, or resistance to the metric-system, until the founding factors and very real repercussions are considered. A hand was forced, and not on principle alone, but to not make security for the least protected more of a slippery-slope—an inch for a mile, and the delayed, bemusement of the subjects' of America's customary critique speaks volumes.