Monday, 31 March 2014


Over the weekend, we criss-crossed the former border dividing West and East Germany, driving through the farthest reaches of Hessen and took the chance to visit the memorial site at Point Alpha. This first observation post, initially manned by the American Constabulary Corps and later by the regular army, as the US assumed command and control for border protection along the fringes of the Iron Curtain from West Germany, was known as the “hottest spot of the Cold War,” and not just with the hyperbole of two opponents being able to stare one another down (East German authorities erected a parallel tower that could not obscure the view down in the valley of the village of Geisa).
The Fulda Gap, the pass between the Rhön mountain range and the Vogelsberg massif, was known to strategists for a long time with the armies of Napoleon retreating from Leipzig along this route and the final push of the Allied armies following the same path into Germany in the final days of World War II. Today, the preserved installation is a conference centre, a youth camp and a museum. I noticed that many of the parents visiting were having a hard time explaining the place and artefacts to their young kids—not that I could do much better. Speaking of the whites of their eyes, I have updated this map of occupied Germany to include Soviet posts.
Not that all Americans were (are) necessarily better integrated into their host communities and did not create their own little ghettos, the Russian units stationed in the DDR had no interaction with the “economy” and very little evidence or memory remains of their presence. Far from some historical curiosity or conundrum, I am glad we took the time for reflection and that such places have been preserved and honoured.

Sunday, 30 March 2014


When trying to recall, with a little help, the details of a science brief we saw on the news a couple weeks ago, about an engineer whose water-collection system—an alternative to water-filtration on a mass-scale, especially for communities where access to clean water is prohibitively expensive and no one seems forthcoming—I was only looking for the name of the Onymacris unguicularis, also known as the fog-basking darkling beetle.

This clever little bug lives in the one of the most arid places on Earth but manages to survive due to a morning ritual, lifting its hinder up to the sky and collecting dew and condensation on microscopic bumps that flow down its waxy abdomen to its mouth. Scientists took a cue from the resourcefulness of Nature and designed a domed surface that harvests moisture with the same principle. The novelty was something revisited perennially, but no matter as I found some other very interesting and ingenious adaptations during the search, which are solid arguments for protecting Nature's diversity, if one needed more reason: the iridescence of butterfly wings rely on prismatic reflectors that require only ambient light, which translated into human, sedentary and unremarkable terms, could power a monitor or a television screen with virtually no electricity—or the fact that birds rarely collide with spider-webs, unlike with windows, because spiders don't want a false Red Rover moment to spoil their handiwork and create webs that are visible to a bird's spectrum while remaining invisible to manageable insects and doltish humans. Any one of Nature's hacks, however, require a measure of moderation and consideration for the consequences down the line, like what it would means to steel the water from the atmosphere before it could complete its cycle naturally.

seward's folly or geopolitics

On this day in 1867 (depending on whether one employed the Georgian or Julian calendar, still in use by the Russian Empire at the time), the United States senate formally ratified the purchase of the territory that would become the state of Alaska from Russia, brokered by US Secretary of State, William H. Seward.
The czar, Alexander II, was little engaged with his North American colony, and having been recently trounced by a coalition led by the British in the Crimean War, was eager to unburden himself of this wasteland, lest Russia loose it to their colonial neighbours without compensation. Those lands that would become Canada had little interest in buying the land, and Russia assumed that the UK would just as likely appropriate the peninsula in some future war or for past reparations, the Empire approached the Americans as buyers for the difficult to defend outpost. At the time, the American public did not think it much of a bargain and the newly acquired territory, twice the size of Texas, became known as Seward's Folly, paying some seven million dollars, two cents an acre, for what was regarded as a frozen wilderness.


In response to the mandate (which may or may not be true, despite what the computer says) for all North Korean males to model their hair-style after their Supreme Leader, Bob Canada points out that having one, utilitarian and uniform hair-cut, on a planetary-scale did not seem to detract from the success of the Vulcans, so maybe it is not such a bad idea.  I suppose the Romulan and the Klingon diaspora pretty much subscribed to just one sort of do, as well, with just the humans with a hair out of place.

ironclad patriotism

Collectors' Weekly features a fascinating little show-and-tell of the nineteenth century phenomena of sweetheart pendants, when aristocratic families of Prussia exchanged their gold and silver jewelry for austere and gothic-looking iron brooches, blackened with a flaxen coating to prevent rust, to help fund the Napoleonic Wars. These so-called intricate Berlin Iron pieces often bore patriotic (and shaming) slogans like “Gold gab ich für Eisen” (I gave gold for iron)—which was something en vogue for later conflicts, too, though not restricted to the upper-classes, like the saying that goes round the edge of this skillet from the Great War that I found: In World War 1916, the German Housewives shared in the spirit of sacrifice by giving up their copper for iron (it rhymes in German).


It is difficult to say what the artist intended to portray with this ensemble of sculptures.  The little girl, however, is apparently aghast at whatever those boys are doing on the bench and points judgmentally.  I cannot tell if it is just supposed to be rough-housing or taking someone's lunch-money.

In any case, it was installed in 2000 for the occasion when Hünfeld was a regional host for Hessentag, a statewide showcase of local culture and attractions.  I wonder if such statues, and sponsoring foundations, help keep kids like these off the streets.
There was a Spring festival going on just now and a moment earlier that seat was fairly crowded with beer-drinkers sharing the bench. I suppose whatever it was meant to be, the bronzes have since become part of the furniture.

Friday, 28 March 2014

check-digit or sonderzeichen

Though the mandate was delayed and not without controversy, reforms to standardise the naming-convention for bank accounts, to make the IBAN (International Bank Account Number) coding sequence also apply to domestic transactions—the changes incorporated for what is called the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), came across pretty seamlessly. Compliance helps eliminate the potential for dysglossia or duplication during transcription.
I noticed, however, that in practise, it yielded another affront against the maligned Umlaut. I enjoy completing payments with the automated tellers as it is one of the rare chances for me to use a German keyboard layout and try to use the language properly. Due to SEPA parameters, though, what are considered special characters are culled. It's like the initiative in the UK to remove all punctuation marks from street names so as to ensure that they are not garbled in navigation devices. “Turn left at St#àààààààà John█qwkl Wood.” I am surprised that the ü and ö are still accommodated on German vehicle license plates, as lands that employ Cyrillic (or Greek) characters are hardly afforded the same: only Latin appearing letters are allowed (though the H is really an E) and one will never see a backwards R, Space-Invader combination on a Bulgarian plated car. Space and data is not really a premium any longer and one has to wonder about the enforcement of old call-signs and the frailties of computing platforms, like the wondrous but technical legacy of British zip-codes—and registration plates.  I wonder how this policing might change in the future, now that the US has relinquished its hold on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and now the world at large can fix standards.

Thursday, 27 March 2014


Ever ready to take recourse to its core values—seemingly that of safeguarding the interest of powerful industry lobbies that know no bounds of patriotism but are exceedingly well-versed in all sorts of jingoism—the United States invoked a star-spangled jibe at its European allies during the G7 summit, which seemed to make quick amends of all America's recent transgressions and wiped the collective memories of those in attendance.

Of course the character of the meeting was drastically changed by its omission, though not shying from acknowledging the new by-laws and membership, and though some of the original rhetoric—that of curtailing nuclear proliferation, made the edit of more immediate and reactionary issues however countered with a demonstration of crouching prowess courtesy of the North Koreans with a test-launch of mid-range rockets—no one attempted to ignore what is happening on the periphery of Europe with the Russian incursion into the Crimea and further advances expected by the West. The exhortation for action and unity was certainly not an empty one, nothing schmaltzy or sentimental (but perhaps would have been taken so in a different context), since we all are really heirs to this peace, though probably not in the same ways as the venue was constructed, but it was a opportune one that has been maybe overlooked, as a comforting elision. In order to sway, I believe, those resistant to adopting wholesale the latest free-trade pact with the US, negotiated in secret and having accumulated many justified reservations over the standards of environmental and labour protections—or copyright embodied by the elusive Atomium landmark of Belgium and promises of endless prosperity that seem impossible to fulfill on a mutual level without losers, the current situation was nuanced to embrace a fuel-independence for Europe that America could help alleviate, as if by opening up a valve that would magically siphon US frack-gas (refined) to the Continent, with the condition of accepting all the other conditions, like accepting GM foods without stint or disclosure. Hopefully politicians will realise the awkwardness of this pitch afterwards and appreciate that acceptance of a commercial-accord is not the moral-imperative called upon.

hippocratic oath

The proper symbol and signature of the medical arts is the Staff of Asclepius, represented by a snake entwined upon a walking-stick in reference to the mythological doctor and founder of the science.
The sign, however, is often conflated, especially in the United States, with the Caduceus, a symbol of Apollo—his father, two winged snakes in a helix, like DNA, due to the singular insistence of one unit commander of the US army's cadet medical enterprise who was convinced he was correct and that two snakes were better than one and looked a bit better as a unit badge. The emblem of Asclepius himself is of uncertain origins and may represent the dual nature of medicine, with either the ability to support in the right doses or toxic when dispensed too freely, and indeed, supplicants who went to places sacred to Asclepius to be healed found themselves in a den of non-venomous serpents and is immortalised in the night-sky in the constellation Ophiucus, the snake-handler. Some think that the mistaken Caduceus is a perfectly valid symbol, ironically, for modern medical practises, as Apollo was basically the traveling salesman of the gods and sold a good line—rather the ambulance-chaser instead of the ambulance, and possibly an inherited-trait.
Some traditions hold that Asclepius was struck down by a bolt from Zeus for bringing back to life the other tragic character of Hippolytus in exchange for a handsome treasure. Apollo, in turn, killed the Cyclopes, outraged, who forged Zeus' righteous thunder. Asclepius was resurrected and placed among the stars in order to restore Zeus' quiver. This confusion is mostly regulated mostly to institutions in the States, however other agencies have incorporated the family crest appropriately, like the licensed dispensaries in Germany, who hang the sign of the Bowl of Hygieia, one of Asclepius' graceful daughters who was able to charm the enduring spectre of over-medication.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

señorita woundy-face

Although an independent Scotland has already extended assurances that, like all the Commonwealth Realms, it would continue to recognise Queen Elizabeth II as their liege and there is the possibility too that Scotland may choose to form a republic and reject all royalty, the local's Spanish edition shares an interesting speculation:

the 18th Duchess of Alba de Tormes, the Grandee of Spain, could be created as monarch of the Scots. The clue is in the doña's barreled name, which honours all her ancestors, María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva—reaching back to a time before the union of Scotland and England, not counting some forty other styles and honours. Although such a change probably won't come to pass, it would be a fitting foil (to reject the Windsors) to the UK threatening Scottish exclusion to the pound Sterling if they secede.

Monday, 24 March 2014

gustatory hallucinogen

It seems rather strange that the sense of taste is a myth-bearer, and once disabused of these traditional beliefs, the contrary is still widely held, and usually as only an enhancement to the palette.
Consider this keen little primer on the distinct taste of umani—otherwise savouriness that went dismissed for a century after its isolation, an infusion by a European chef and a Japanese chemist of a new understanding of cuisine, as some imaginary and unwelcome addition to the accepted panoply of flavours, sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Asian dishes often carry notes of this taste, as do many preserved and processed foods (which surely adds to their appeal and possibly accounts for the delayed recognition) but is also present in pungent cheeses, tomatoes and mushrooms. The tongue itself was subject to misunderstanding, the terrior of tastes popularised and stuck by a poorly translated anatomic treatise by German doctor D. P. Henig, who in 1901 first described the taste-buds, papillae, which can each detect the spectrum of flavours, regardless of location. I just found it odd that umani has sort of crept in as something as created or added and not something revealed, and it seems like people are quicker to accept concepts like self-styled (mostly) super-smellers and super-tasters or synesthesia, where perceptions are automatically assigned with other cognitive macros, giving colours to the days of the week. What do you think? Are such nuances real and made digestible by giving them a scientific reality?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

fyrom, kfor or wag-the-dog

Veteran reporter and author, Masha Gessen writing for Slate, shares her warzone coverage memories on the anniversary, nearly fifteen years ago to the day, when in 1999 NATO forces, under US leadership, began the intervention in Kosovo, and their presence remains today.

Gessen poses an interesting theory regarding the first bombing campaign within the former Soviet sphere of influence that came as a surprise to the old guard, a grave slight with no private warning of NATO's encroachment and roundly reenforced the idea that Russia no longer held super-power status (the wounded egos sound already smack eerily similar to the current reaction of America, taken by surprise by Russia's maneuvers in the Crimea): that the affront—then matched with an accelerated conflict in Chechnya, over Serbia and the splintered Yugoslav states made a lasting impression on the once and future king, Vladimir Putin, made heir-apparent later that same year by a retiring Boris Yeltsin. I admit that I did think that this sort of patient revenge was rather a reach initially, even considering the mention of the actions by the West in his speech, until fully reading the analysis and comparisons drawn. After the spate of over-throws of the Arab Spring, I think the West became dangerously inured to a revolutionary template, and even despite hard lessons, excepted Ukraine to proceed according to certain protocols and there's no real appetite or wherewithal for more.


Collectors' Weekly has a brilliant gallery of previously unknown Japanese deco-era travel posters, from a forgotten lot printed in the 1930s when Japan was beginning to expand its railway network and promote domestic tourism. These works of art had very limited circulation and the collection was an interpretation of the style that I had never seen before that seem equally rooted in traditional art—neither had the experts who brought the rarities to auction.

flatfish or here's mud in your eye

We experimented with a nice recipe calling for halibut served on a bed of fennel slaw with mustard sauce. The fish's scientific name is hippoglossus from the Greek for horse-tongue, referring to the shape of the fish's body and not to its more distinctive, I think, feature of having one of its eyes migrate over to the other side of its head as it flounders its adult life on the sea floor. The common name, halibut, means holy-flatfish, as it is very popular for feast days of obligation during Lent.

For two to three portions, one will need:

  • 500 – 600 grams of Halibut (fresh or fully thawed)
  • 100 ml of cream
  • 2 stalks of leek 
  • 1 good sized fennel root
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 large carrot 
  • Four to six small potatoes
  • 1 glass of dry white wine
  • Aluminum foil, Salt, butter, and one tablespoon of Dijon Mustard
First, divide the fish into serving sizes and briefly fry them, just browning the surface but not cooked thoroughly as it will be steamed later, in a pan with butter and then set aside. Pulse the leeks, fennel and carrot in a food-processor into a fine and thin slaw. Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to about 180°C and make little pouches out of the foil, one for each portion of the Halibut and divide the slaw among them. Douse each pouch with the white wine and fold and pouch so they don't leak. Place the pouches back in the oven and allow to steam for around fifteen minutes (depending on the type of potato), while boiling the potatoes, peeled and in lightly salted water. Cube the onion and introduce it to a pan with some butter. Remove the foil pouches from the oven and carefully empty the liquid, fond (stock) into the frying pan and stir in the cream and mustard, with a little sauce to taste. Allow the fond to thicken a bit, only frying it for a minute or so, to use as a zesty sauce for the fish and bed of slaw.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

conqueror worm

Wired Magazine reports on how a genetically engineered variety of maize designed specifically to kill one of the crop's biggest plagues, the corn root-worm (a beetle belonging to the genus appropriately named Diabrotica), has lost its efficacy. Accounting currently for some seventy-five percent of the US, the bio-tech harvest has been a casualty of its own success and wide-spread adoption, which in a text-book demonstration of accelerated natural selection, caused the pest to evolve by making dominate the mutation that accorded a small population of the worms resistance to the targeted toxin.

Now the majority of the worms are immune and poised to lay waste to the farmers' fields. Surely, there were more hard-nosed tactics in turning growers towards these patented seeds, forcing a whole lifestyle and licensing agreement on the farmers along with the crops, as well, but one other selling-point was that by not having to use chemical pesticides, there would be less negative environmental impact—without considering the effects that mono-culturing and cross-contamination might pose for the ecology. The industry could do without this sort of publicity, which forebodes a food-supply more vulnerable than it was before and evaporating benefits from all their research and government lobbying. Researchers are urging more refuges of natural corn be mingled in the huge tracts of GM crops, sort of as firebreaks to attract pests, as they originally urged, but I think its probably too late for containment and such a practise what have over unforeseen consequences besides. I suspect that human tinkering with genes, especially when it comes to food, has other chinks in its armour that no one in the business want to go public.

selected images oder farbe für die republik

There is a cheerful exhibit of everyday examples, not of propa- ganda—but rather of putting ones best foot forward of images of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) on display in Berlin, captured by a pair of freelance photographers, who found themselves sponsored not only by the patronage of businesses and catalog and cookbook publishers but also by the State, in order to promote optimism and efficiency. The documentation, in some instances, departed somewhat from reality, like showing a happy couple enjoying a repast of herring and pineapple cooked on a table-top grill with red wine. The exhibition seems to be an interesting if unintentional commentary on make-believe and GDR-chic.

better mousetrap oder nachgestellt

Though not quite on the frontier of forensic science as the technical capabilities have been explored for a decade and longer, genetic researchers are just discovering now the score or so of genomes from a sample that determine ones outward appearance, forehead, chin, ears, eyes, nose, lips, etc. (excluding nurture, vanity and lifestyle) that could be quickly scanned and extrapolated to produce police-sketches of suspects, possible even creating a visual match—for those populations not already in a registry.

Witnesses could of course tweak the profile returned to account for things that are not necessarily in ones genes, even with the possibility for a computer-generated crime scene reenactment with avatars. These new degrees of accuracy won't only be used to catch criminals, however, and the potential for abuse remains great since all ones predispositions and proclivities are all laid out there in same snatch of human detritus. Insurers, pharmaceutical companies, lenders and employers would certainly be eager to project their profits, gains and losses against each individual on these threads spindled by the Fates (Moirai). A burgeoning discussion has developed in response as to how to protect elements of this data, to encrypt ones DNA after it leaves ones body and go into the wilds—or into the lab. I don't know what form this practise might ultimately take, but I imagine once the public realises the implications it's going to be hygiene that everyone will be interested in.

Friday, 21 March 2014


While the US, in its usually cheeky fashion, is dismissive of the counter-sanctions of the Russian government, declaring senior members of the Senate as personae non grata—as EU and US authorities are freezing the bank-accounts of certain Russian nationals and imposing travel-restrictions, canceling debit cards, and believe their ribald attitude has dissuaded Russia from pursuing this tactic. Russia, however, I am certain is more than a few moves ahead of the parties that would boycott and blackball Russia for its posture in the Crimea and other satellites in its orbit, trying in fact to counter perceived or real expansionist's ambitions with appeasement (even though it is never presented openly).

Russia has its own infrastructure, independent of anything that the US delivers and officials can make due without the redundant systems. Western Europe is trying to levy more meaningful commendations by pursuing measures to relieve itself from dependence on Russian fuel delivery, but that will be very difficult to accomplish without much austerity, like Norwegian petroleum, re-routing pipelines to the Middle East or at unacceptably high environmental costs, such as a creeping acceptance of fracking or re-thinking the moth-balling of nuclear reactors. While the stance of the EU is a noble one, it is also untenable since if the valves were to be closed for just one day, which is certainly a possibility and not without precedence, panic would break out—though Germany has worked up some heady sense of security due to the warm Winter. Russia also, I believe, would have little trouble finding other customers. China's voracious appetite would certainly make a good match, I think. It is a dangerous thing to underestimate different cultural-norms, especially when shared among compatriots with an underestimated might.

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Finland's tourism bureau has some pretty keen diversions—priming oneself for the immersive experience in a land where the naming-convention harkens back to Nature and mythology, aside from promoting the typical vacation. I like how their Finngenerator dubbed me Sampo—a lucky artefact forged by Seppo Ilmarinen (the eternal blacksmith, like the Greek analogue Hephaestus—Vulcan) that could grant its owner any wish, like the concept of Cornucopia or the Holy Grail, while the configuration remains a speculative mystery. What would your Finnish monicker be?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

ockham's razor

After days and days of no resolution and aggravating, conflicting accounts and patience that's out-waited even the stingy faith of the insurance-brokers, the families of the missing souls of Flight MH370 who disappeared with no trace must be enduring a waking nightmare. Despite every modern, hyper-connected nuance there is to transportation, surveillance and other forms of cleverness, the combined efforts of many nations cannot locate the airliner, and while I sadly suspect that people's expectations of what such domineering technology can deliver under-estimate the vast scale of the Pacific Ocean, there are many theories out there—mostly I believe with the intent of keeping hope alive and not just useless grand-standing, fed by the changing details of authorities.
Ockham's Razor is a sort of philosophical decision-chart, lex parsimoniae, holding that the explanation with the least assumptions is probably the right one. This guidance, however, also contains its own anti-thesis (an anti-razor) since the principle also holds that the only remaining explanation after others have been duly eliminated, however implausible, must be true. Just after contact was lost, it was disclosed that three passengers on the manifest were traveling under false credentials, and despite being initially dismissed as the kind of paranoia that makes the best crowds for security-theatre, the high-jacking supposition now is accepted fact. Some suggest that the whole plane was kidnapped and is being ransomed by sky-pirates with the condition of a total media blackout; others believe that the aircraft was spirited away for some future high-profile attack on a metropolitan centre and is in the mountain lair of an evil-genius, and all explain how this could be carried out, convincingly—more less. Considering the changing stories, some believe that some military power, testing out a new, secret weapon accidentally vapourised the wrong target. Conspiracy theories are usually not given the chance to thrive and not a one quite seems like blind-faith, but I do think that officials are not being exactly transparent with their search and believe something lies underneath. Whatever the truth ultimately revealed, I hope the families find their peace and I hope that dispatching search teams and enormous resources is not exactly the diversion that the alleged masterminds behind this tragedy was hoping for.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


H and I had the chance to re-visit the site in the north of the City of Leipzig, dedicated to the memory of the fallen German and Russian troops who withstood Napoleon's advance on this front and ultimately precipitated his surrender and defeat, after managing to realign and re-distribute much of Europe in a manner that survived his rampage.
Partnerships of convenience, long-lasting alliances and a much poorer Church emerged from the turmoil. Das Völkerschlachtdenkmal (the monument for the Battle of the Nations) was completed in its unique and defining neo-classical, betraying influences from the Meso-Americans and the Ancient Egyptians and previsioning the Art Déco (Jugendstil) movement, in 1913 for the one-hundredth anniversary of the decisive campaign and underwent extensive restoration of its interior crypt during the past few years for its centennial, honouring the anniversary of the battle this past October.
We were able to see the halls and galleries, a clime of some five-hundred steps (with a lift too but some chambers, like the ancient ziggurats it borrows from, could only be reached through a labyrinth of stairwells that sometimes had one ascending through the colossal statues.
The monument was misused at times as a symbol of German mysticism and exceptionalism, like the Barbarossa monument commissioned by the self-same German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm, that sought to strengthen ties among a disparate assemblage of former petty kingdoms as the German Empire, and its East German caretakers proposed at one time to tear it down. I am glad that they didn't and consistently appreciate the charge of a curator.
An inverted bee-hive spiraled high above. No doubt that the crypt is sacred ground and one cannot forget, even when awing at the scale as a tourists, but it was a strange feeling how the experience was reminiscent of Scooby-Doo forensics or the archetype for the staging of an installment of Star-Gate, Riddick and any given action-adventure experience—without being too sacrilegious.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

form and function

Designer and artist Katerina Kamprani has reimagined a whole gallery of familiar everyday items but with a twist on their usefulness. The Uncomfortable collection has tableware, containers and other practical accessories that really make one think about grip, stability and other tactile qualities that we've grown accustomed to.
These objects still fulfill their purpose, and retain their semiotic niche, but would be awkward to handle. It's sort of like computer icons of envelopes, pad-locks, chains, paint-cans, rubbish bins or key fobs—whose function is transparent but whose avatars are only masks.  Wouldn't you appreciate the standard form of a fork or drinking glass after trying to handle one of these pieces?

Friday, 14 March 2014

tadasana or yoga-on-ice

A correspondent from the local's Swiss edition gives an intriguing and inspiring review of a fusion activity taking place on the slopes that tower above the Engadine.

A veteran instructor of yoga and skiing brings her two skills together to deliver to the guests of the resort at St. Moritz a certain mindfulness and meditation when it comes to engaging in that seasonal sport that many visitors, however experienced, try to cram into one get-away weekend per year and maybe tend to be a bit reckless and rushed to get their money's worth. In addition to imparting techniques that can build on awareness and improve maneuvers (as mental and physical preparation—not that one assumes the tadasana, the mountain pose, while on a run), the pause and circumspection can also train hectic holiday-makers to take it slower and adjust their focus to savouring quality over quantity.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

cifrão or surreal times

In response and in anticipation to a marked upswing in the trend, a group in Brazil has minted a form of alternative protest currency, called the Surreal—opposed to the real (reais), the fiat tender of the country, Der Spiegel reports (auf Deutsch).

Residents of Rio de Janeiro and the vicinity, having witnessed how big events have become a liability for host cities in recent years with kettling security and robber-baronage that hardly benefits the local economy, leaves environmental, and foremost precipitates a price-gouging that the group finds unacceptable, are expressing their displeasure with the watermark of Salvador Dali over their home-town venue, entertaining the Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft (the FIFA—Fédération Internationale de Football, otherwise soccer—World Cup) this summer and the Olympiad in 2016. Given the country's affection for sport, to stage such a rally, not against the well-deserved honour but the back-handedness of it, I believe says a lot.

shouts and murmurs or no. 2 pencil

The New Yorker has an excellent little extract regarding the Stanford Achievement Test proctors' effort to make the standardized college entrance exam more relevant to students, to assess the skills they need to develop in this brave new world.
Many questions are tailored to the internet environment. I can recall when the SAT was a bastion of stellar vocabulary and recognised rigour but maybe that demonstrates a certain immaturity.  I am not sure how in earnest the analysis is and suspect it's humourous, one question posed quotes a short passage from Jane Austin (already suspect) and asks how to best entitle a post with this content to draw in the most traffic.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

i-spy or chivalric code

The various US government agencies that pose as very magnanimous monarchs, eager to dub subjects—and not just creatures of the court but also mercenaries, with the titles of Sir Top of Secret or Lady Confidential now has an expansive plan to walk back (bad link) their veritable jubilee, as quite a few notorious individuals holding a security clearance have proved to be less than loyal—at least in the estimation of the secret-sharers. I remember once watching an actual knighting ceremony, and as is the wont of tradition the band began playing the tune from Monty Python's Flying Circus (John Philip Sousa's Liberty Bell march, which is also performed on the occasion of US presidential inaugurations).
I suppose the panel of judges for beauty contests and OPM (the Office of Personnel Management, which actually bestows these honours) have about the same mentality. Ambitious or not, the uniformed services and associated civilian counterparts, from whom many careers are built as their networks, platforms and jargon require interpreters, aims to monitor every move of their title-holders—at least, every move on the internet, easily retrieved but also easily faked and only want the computer says. Having seemingly forgot that this sort of surveillance is already not only possible but also carried out, the spooks, trustees and petty tyrants are concerned about their privacy, but more to the point they also have concerns for the integrity of the actual secret business that they are doing, also subject to a continuum of voyeurs.

chicken kyiv oder rollsplitt

While the US and the EU are at odds as to the better means of sanctioning Russia's encouraging the Crimea to assent to annexation, there seems to be precious little traction from outside pressures. Obviously this invitation was well choreographed and premeditated, and whether the aggressions are opportune, taking advantage of an uprising off-set, or merely staged and coinciding with the world's focus on the Winter Games (or a negotiation of both) is unclear.
 A balmy winter in western Europe that could have better weathered the valves being shut off for delivery of natural gas from Russia or America's announcement to scale back the army and military presence in Europe, deemed stable and no longer interbellum and relics of the long, Cold War being cannibalised for adventures further east. It's a bit of a reach but I wonder if this was not some sort of double-bluff, a head-fake, to bolster new Europe's alignment with the West, and legitimize America's missile shield in Poland and mission-creep elsewhere.
This sort of psychological battle for hearts and minds seems like a very real possibility, given Russia's counter-wooing of satellites like Moldova, with an offensive to expose the hollow promises of joining Europe, demonstrating that economic integration is other than rosy, including Russian-influenced embargoes on Moldovan wine exports. In exchange, the nations, which in turn harbour break-away republics with limited recognition like Transnistria or Georgia's South Ossetia in 2008, are portrayed as presented with false taunts and alternative life-styles. Regardless of circumstance or politicking, citizens reserve the rights to secede, devolve or resist, but this sort of partitioning is a bit scary on both sides, interest reserved—whether or not one is just spinning diplomatic wheels.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

daytrip: maintauberfranken

Taking advantage of the spring weather, we took a short rumble down a portion of the Romantic Road (die Romantische Straße), the route of fairy tale castles, palaces and fotresses that criss-cross the borders of Bayern and Baden-Württemberg in the western reaches of Franconia to Upper-Bavaria.  Towards the end of our trip, we passed through the village of Creglingen on the Tauber river, nicely rendered in this landscape by the artist Carl Grossberg in 1926. We did not photograph this particular vista because of the afternoon sun, but I was really captured by the artist's modern, cartoonish style.
Afterwards, I researched a bit further, got a lesson in art-history and found more of Grossberg's works and discovered that the collection epitomizes the German New Objectivity movement (Neue Sachlichkeit, new matter-of-factness) that aimed to capture the practicality of form and function associated with civic involvement and political engagement of Germany's inter-war Weimar Republic and an off-shoot of the Bauhaus movement.
As opposed to Futurism or Expressionism, this impartial attitude emulated the perceived values of America's infatuation with work and progress and represented an inward-turning towards institutions and public life, and Grossberg did in fact produce many interesting schematics depicting industry.  I do, however, really enjoy his imaginative way of inserting sloths and monkeys into office-settings for effect and comment.


In an apparent about-face to the regime's earlier courtship of technology and telecommunications and in response to opposition politicians that have hijacked the internet as a platform for lies and libel, at least—according to the incumbents, the government of Turkey is looking to curtail freedom of expression on-line when the integrity of the public and republic is at stake, including the whole-sale blocking of certain popular sites.
The European Union is joining a chorus of Turkish protesters in revolt, however this individual-mandate, which Turkey wants to install as a way for policing the internet and dousing out sparks before the lead to righteous conflagrations, blocking the activity of certain persons or a link before they can blossom or metastasize—though blatant censorship is little different from roving arbiters and trolls that have door-stops within governments to get their way and can be scarier yet than calling twitterpation a “menace (tehdit) to society.” These laws are ostensibly meant for protection of individual privacy and dignity, adding a bit of amnesia to the internet which never forgets—which seems on the contrary like something quite positive and reasonable, since going back to the idea of an individual-mandate, great freedom also carries with it great responsibility—especially when evangelizing, but the potential for abuse is always there, as those most eager to do the judging usually have no business doing so.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

zur farbenlehre oder roy g. biv

Marine biologists studying a specific species of mantis shrimp (Fangschreckenkrebse) that inhabits coral reefs—an explosion of colour, shade and shadow, have found that these crustaceans have some of the most advanced eyes compound eyes in the animal kingdom. These shrimp have sixteen distinct photo-receptive cells, ommatidium whereas human eyes only have four to filter for red, green and blue and contrast, to differentiate, to tune for three times more colours and perceive polarised light and across different spectra.

It's difficult to truly understand what this exponentially higher range of visual acuity means and hard to make parallels, it's not as simple, I think, as looking at a thermal image of something, donning night-vision goggles or being Geordi La Forge or Superman. It's been long known that bees and butterflies and other inspects have advanced visual systems that humans cannot imagine, except as a bewildering kaleidoscope, but researchers now theorise that the ability to perceive so many more aspects of the their environment, including time and tide and what's washed in with them, through their eyes, what humans know as reason and reflection, higher-level mental processes, are by the crabs and their kin just seen, intuited, with in their field of vision and require no further thinking.

Thursday, 6 March 2014


Beyond mermaids and unicorns—and even enjoying less widespread popularity than rarer chimeras like griffins, harpies or the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (cotton, not so much a monster), there is a neglected bestiary, which the marvelous Atlas Obscura pays tribute to. My favourite creature enrolled here is the odd Lidérc from Hungarian folklore—a sort of familiar, hatched as the first of a brood from a black hen, after being incubated in a human armpit—according to some traditions.
This newly-hatched imp, industrious and loyal, eventually becomes also a curse and a liability. Though always at their master's disposal, such congress becomes a dangerous thing, but can be gotten rid of through a variety of equally specific rituals, like giving one's Lidérc an impossible task, like a logical feed-back loop that will eventually cause a fatal-error. It reminds me of the notion that vampires exhibit arithmomania and are compelled to count whatever is cast out in front of them, like grains of rice, or the Greek custom of setting out a colander during the Christmas season to trip up evil spirits, since they are obsessed with numbers and will try to count all the holes. They only make it as far as two, however, since three, the Holy Trinity, makes them disappear and start all over. It's interesting that monsters are framed with compulsions and I wonder what that means.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

cold fusion

Kottke shares some interesting developments on the world-wide initiative to harness essential limitless energy with nuclear fusion by creating a wee constellation of tiny terrestrial (or at least mundane—that is, below the sphere of the Moon). The project has a commendable mission statement, as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor abbreviated ITER, or rather iter from the Latin for the way, it aims to bend physics to satisfy man's needs, like with Prometheus—punished for giving humanity the gifts and curses of fore-thought and fire, in a sustainable manner. Whether it is possible to contain this sort of power is uncertain, but progress seems in jeopardy due to the bureaucratic nature of such a collaboration.
Such a complex engineering project has even spawned its own form of currency to facilitate funding of grants, and I am sure that there are secreted cautions among the members, especially those who supply the world's traditional fuels—who spread rumours that bringing the CERN collider on-line would ingest the Earth in a microscopic blackhole. Kottke's posts are always value-added, waxing philosophical and triangulating with curious but cogent parallels, and wonders if in this case, it is not an effort better handed off to industry. Many of today's businesses, flush with money and not only interested in preserving the status quo (though dominance and vertical monopolies are not much different) might want their own stellar prestige project.