Friday, 28 February 2014

carriage-and-four

Gentle readers, I could not even begin to reconstruct the daisy-chain of thoughts that made me think of the tale of Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue-Bonnet, a short animated musical from 1946 produced by Disney animators, but suddenly the lilting and wistful tune was in my head.

The vignette tells of two fancy hats that fall in love in a department store display case, who are sold separately to two different human owners who do not do much to foster their courtship and rather dash it. The fedora's owner eventually tosses Johnny out as old and tattered, but when all seems lost, a coach driver saves Johnny from the dust-bin and paring out two holes along the brim for ears and outfits his horse. The snazzy happy ending happens when a despondent Johnny realises that the nag trotting beside him is proudly wearing Alice. I don't know where exactly the memory came from but it brought a smile to my face the other day and was happy to find that others recall this too.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

jai alai

The European Union and Brazil will sink a submarine fibre-optic cable beneath the waters of the Atlantic to link Portugal and Latin America directly and provide a relief artery for more of the world's population to avoid using American infrastructure for communications.

There are manifold benefits behind this project, which is an upgrade on an existing connection now only able to rely calls from land-lines (though one ought to wonder about the growing strain on band-width and the dozens of tenant advertisers and background services that pounce on with every move, putting exponential demands for speed with malingers plus an array of possibilities of what to do next and how an image is gainsays far more than a thousand words) with cost-savings and added security. Fibre-optics, though far from impervious, are much harder to tap at the source, some hundreds of metres under the sea and to focus in on due to the lack of an electromagnet signature, and I suppose it creates a secondary industry of intermediaries and mercenaries to protect and attack the newly expected integrity of the internet. That's a strange thing to ponder too: when the internet was just simply considered a lawless and enter-at-ones-own-risk place, I think people were more willing to accept trespasses as sublimating things, evaporating and only with mostly fleeting and contained repercussions, though party to any petty-thief and highway-man, rather than a sly and voracious monitoring in telescoping hopes of tilling something incriminating. I hope these efforts at creating an alternative are not immediately contaminated, either by espionage or the peddling of some false sense of security that can never exist in an open and free internet.

Monday, 24 February 2014

three is a magic number

The fantastically thoughtful aggregate of boot-strapping and interesting things, Brain-Pickings, shares a new collection of self-improvement reflections and exercises from Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology in the States—though popular in Europe for years, that seem to certainly fulfill their promises of more joy and less angst.

Though the notion of amending ones gratitude is certainly important and could be nothing but therapeutic—mutually, I am not sure how I personally feel about thanking someone long after the fact, since one ought to be, if anything, gracious, and I know—according to the prescription, at least, some people might not take too well to a confrontation with gratitude. Nonetheless, it is something to think on, even if one does not carry out the rehearsal fully. Seligelman suggests writing a truly heart-felt speech to deliver in person, but I suppose the greatest impetus comes too late, like only socializing with a co-worker for his retirement or farewell celebration. Another ritual, however, appealed very much to me: I have morning routines but not so much a nightly one but I will certainly try to incorporate Seligman's thrice-blessed days along with the news and a pair of posts. One ought to try to recall at the end of the day (and document) three things that went right during the course of the day and acknowledge why, despite or because. No one ought to have to grasp for citations, but it could be as simple as “I heard a snatch of Me and Julio down by the School Yard,” and it was because the Universe knew I needed that tune to carry in my head.

the commons

Revolutions have shifted from seasons and colours it seems towards something more in situ and the world is receiving a lesson, no less, in foreign terms for square or plaza where the protests are taking place and public politics are fomenting.

In recent memory, before the press was allowed to name and tidily adjudge such things, there was Tiananmen Square (天安門廣場, named for the Gate of Heavenly Peace which separates the area from the Forbidden City) in Beijing in 1989. Not as if everything was quiet, peaceable or simmering in the meantime, there was Tarhir Square in Cairo (Mīdān at-Taḥrīr, Liberation Place) in 2011. In 2013 and on-going is Taksim (meaning division or distribution from an Ottoman era reservoir originally on this site where the plumbing of the city was managed) Meydanı in Istanbul whose Gezi Park has become a symbol for government oppression and autocracy. Presently, the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Майдан Незалежності, Independence) in Kiev has seen its square component of its name become shorthand for public uprising itself—the Euromaidan (Євромайдан) demonstrations seeking to realign Ukraine with Western Europe. Of course, there were countless rallies, marches, movements and occupations before they could be widely reported to the outside and degrees in coordination and spontaneity, and myriad in between. Overthrows and positive reform do not end with these pivotal moments, and possibly a public more educated and connected can appreciate the difficulty in managing the aftermath and transition.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

verso-recto

The unique and enigmatic Voynich Manuscript, a six century old pharmacopoeia, which supposedly only returned into the world's stacks after its purchase by a Polish antiquarian in 1912 when the papal college in Rome was forced to auction off some of its collection, may have at least been demonstrated as something other than a hoax, according to one British researcher.

The text still defies deciphering and the abugidas are beyond our compre- hension—even with the aid of bizarre illustrations, but the linguist may have puzzled out ten proper names for plants—apparently as recipes for herbal-cures. Theories abound about what the book could be about, from an encrypted treatise of medicine with secret cures transmitted from antiquity, an undiscovered language to a phonetic rendering of by a European scholar of some Asian text—like the transliteration of Mandarin into pinyin and the Latin alphabet or the addition of invented lower-case letters and punctuation for Ancient Greek texts, which originally had neither, by scholars and copyists—with shorthand and ligatures, that certainly would have appeared inscrutable to readers on either extreme of these aids for reading.  One can browse or download the scanned manuscript from the holdings at Yale, where the book resides.

cosine or god bless you, mister vonnegut

Never discounting the classic novels Kurt Vonnegut Jr. gave the world with Galapagos, Slaughterhouse Five, Mother Night and a dozen more, one of the story-teller's simple gifts, long overlooked, may have been in the form of an anthropology thesis—rejected at the time for appearing too unsophisticated, which theorized every arch-of-story, all archetypes, can be represented in eight shapes. Luckily, Mr. Vonnegut later revisited his “man-in-the-hole” and other hypotheses and his lectures and conjectures have caught the interest of others, like the brilliant graphic artist Maya Eilam, who presents these ideas as a beautiful infographic.

devolution or shelbyville-adjacent

The suggestion of one of Silicon Valley's resident tycoons that California governance has become untenable and the state ought to be splintered into six separate republics has picked up some momentum for the populace too impatient for the great quake and letting Mother Earth sort it all out.

Maybe there is some truth to the claim that management is growing impossible and that a unified California is too unwieldy to be run under the former model. The proposed breakup, given enough petitioners to force a referendum on the matter, however, includes a state of Silicon Valley carved out of the adjacent state of Central California which would create the wealthiest enclave in America next to one of the poorest regions. Segregation does not seem to be solution for creating a functional government—jettisoning territories that are of different political persuasions or in different tax brackets, especially when the middle-class is burdened with actually paying into state and federal coffers while the corporations are typically the scoff-laws. Though for very different reasons, this plan reminds me of the upcoming decision of Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and join to European Union as an independent member. What do you think? Is small-time session the answer?

Saturday, 22 February 2014

synchronicity

Via the peripatetic Kottke, purveyor of fine hypertext products, cites some stunning pairings of historic events that took place on roughly the same date but to grapple with this coincidence presents some real cognitive dissonance. The growing indices solicited on Reddit point out, for instance:

1888: Nintendo was founded as a playing-card company, Jack the Ripper was active in London, the cornerstone was laid for the Washington Monument and van Gogh painted Starry Night

1971: Astronauts drove a rover on the Moon and Switzerland attained universal suffrage

1977: The last execution in France via guillotine and the premiere of the Star Wars franchise

There are plenty of other jarring, curious moments of history overlapping—like the Monguls fought on two fronts simultaneous: the Crusaders in the Middle East and the Samurai clans in the Far East, woolly mammoths still existed during the time that the Ancient Egyptians were building the earliest pyramids, or the sandwich and the sushi-roll were invented approximately the same time separately by two noble men, one English and the other Japanese, both with a love for gaming and could not be bothered to devote two hands to their food. What other historical worm-holes can you think of? You'll earn a Time Tunnel badge if you can come up with a good one.

minitrue oder volksaufklärung

Though stalled for now over insider outcry, the US government's Federal Communications Commission plans to charge the agency with the onerous task of evaluating news rooms of different media outlets to assess their ability to deliver on “critical information needs” for the public was a rather chilling prospect.

The aim to create a more informed and civic-minded population is a noble one, of course, with several categories that define what a broadcast ought to convey, but it also runs the risk of possibly deputizing FCC inspectors as censors and propagandists, as it quickly could become a question of journalistic credentials if one source or another did not tow the party line in diplomacy, security or social welfare. Already outlets are pretty polarized and either championed or dismissed, while every non-traditional opinion and reporting is classified as something fringe. The FCC let the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” that mandated for equal-time to avoid a press-bias and demagogy on controversial subjects atrophy before finally expiring in 2011—for sound reasons, since a cartel is different from an autocrat and the public has to discern for itself what's worth following, even if the choices are saccharine. Implementation has been delayed—for now, but as of late, the hurdles of public-sentiment have been merely assuaged and left to be battled behind the scenes, possibly like the empty victories tossed to the public over keeping the internet out of the hands of big industry, which was instead taken up in secret arbitration and trade deals and in turned out that the whole of communications and activity was under surveillance in the first place.  It is true how they say power is never relinquished willingly.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

bread and circuses

From Mother Jones magazine, comes a fascinating profile of an academic research facility in Washington state and the bakers who are striving to reverse the trend in production that have made bread instead of what has been regarded “as the staff of life,” symbolically and historically, into “the spirit of disease.”

There are legitimate cases of course of celiac disease of individuals who cannot tolerate gluten, but impatience in the industry—white bread and some seemingly whole wheat cognates (fortunately, for now, this is not a problem in Germany, though I understand there is an increasing amount of baked goods prepared in China and elsewhere that employ the same short-cuts) does not allow the yeast to fully digest the gluten and the preservatives added and has a knock-on effect up the food-chain and may yield false-positives, in addition to such dietary fads that revile processing but not necessarily the process. In the facility's experimental kitchen, bakers are returning to traditional methods, yielding a far superior and better tasting product.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

you don't say?

I like how the cork on this bottle of prosecco (vino frizzante oder Italienischer Perlwein) bears some visual instructions. I suppose some people might use their teeth, in desperation. This particular vintage hails from Treviso and has the poetic name derived from joyful and amorous march, Marca Gioiosa et Amorosa, of the Trevisan region—a very romantic (but appropriate, as the Venetian exclave lying between Lake Garda and Trieste) way to refer to a territorial claim that usually designated a borderland or buffer-zone between two stronger powers. These tense places that were subject to change ownership often—outposts, were ruled by nobles with the rank marquess or margrave (Markgraf).

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

speed-trap oder blitz-schnell

Thanks to Tom Tom and habitual caution, I have never been ticketed for exceeding the speed-limit. Navigation devices of course are good at plotting out established obstacles, as I catch myself sometimes accelerating unconsciously to keep up, and the traffic report on the radio is reliable snitch for temporary installations that the police have set up—while this practise is tolerated in the European Union, I've learned that in Switzerland, issuing such fore-warnings are illegal, sort of like the interstate black-market for dashboard radar-detectors in the States (I admit that I only know about such debates from watching the home-shopping network and have no idea if this is still the case, and I guess it shows my age and detachment, as if I were to entitle this post, 'Smile, you're on Candid-Camera,' whose descendents are nonetheless wildly popular too).

Speeders generally receive a citation with a grainy black and white photograph that memoralises the moment, Blitzers (Starenkasten) these devices are called because of the blinding flash they emit when triggered. I learned, however, that the traffic cameras in Germany are not the property of the municipalities that they guard but are rather rented to towns and villages by a company based near Cottbus who earn a commission, like asking to install a vending-machine in a high-traffic areas, complete with terms and an end-user agreement. I am astounded that the same racket has not blocked all such warnings for speed-cameras, as it is a synchronised slow-down by those in the wise.  The company that provides this service is not exactly in the business of public safety, as the firm dictates their placement in order to maximise profit. Thus, aberrations in the road could sometimes be created for the sake of the franchise rather than in response to some place that was truly accident prone, though with little potential as a speed-trap.

Monday, 17 February 2014

electric avenue

Plans to construct an electric corridor within the next decade, some four-hundred fifty kilometers north to south through Saxony-Anhalt through Hof and the Oberpfalz along the Czech border to just north of the Augsburg-München, to deliver wind-generated power from the North and Baltic Seas to insatiable metropolises in the southern part of the country is not be greeted with optimism by all.

Just one conduit of four proposed, those in the path of the energy-Autobahn (Stromtrasse) are fearful what the giant masts and towers will do to the natural landscape, the wires necessary robust and bundled to prevent too much dissipation of power over the long journey—though the circuit only takes a nanosecond for the electricity to transverse, and the debated and unknown affects that living in proximity to strong magnetic fields poses. While being able to siphon off surplus renewable energy to climes less capable of producing it for themselves is certainly laudable, I do also respect the rights of the residents to question the long-term consequences and second their concerns, as a project of this scale has inertia and cannot be easily stopped or re-directed, much like the pledges to take all the German nuclear reactors off-line, and the electric Autobahn project is being managed by concerns with vested-interests and a subsidised agenda that would blanch at the idea of detours and diversions—even of the resourceful and innovative variety. It seems like an awfully big amount of money to devote to rehabilitating infrastructure that might be better served with something more ambitious, like a massive lightening-rod or a space-elevator, a cable tethered to a satellite in orbit to harness cosmic-rays. What do you think? Are more power-lines the answer or should we be more willing to explore novel ways of moving supply to demand?

Sunday, 16 February 2014

survey sez or keeping up appearances

The discouraging results of a 2012 survey of American's acumen and performance on a battery of basic science questions were revealed just recently and show that a dumbfounding 26% believe that the Sun transits the Earth, rather than the other way around.  These sort of things that the pollsters asked where not just matters of trivia but rather established facts and necessary for the most elementary of further inquiries.

I do, however, wonder why the National Science Foundation delayed releasing the news of the abysmal state of education, having lost a couple years to help correct the matter, and why draw parallels to an even more outdated, yet equally symptomatic and depressing round of questions from European and Asian demographics that fares worse. Having such non-compartmenalised knowledge or disengaged guardians is not what a vengeful Church was to Galileo.  Maybe it was due to all the negative and anti-academic that has mounted against environmentalists over climate change—or perhaps, hopefully (statistics being what they are), these respondents, schooled aright, realised the nature of these trick-questions, though the Earth is not the pivot point of the Sun, that neither does our planet orbits a point negotiated between our star and the rest of the universe. Far fewer still could correctly locate Atlantis on a map. Such optimistic thinking is probably out of line, however, and the outcome is never that skewed.

at the star wars, star wars cantina or non-canonical

Looking through some old photographs, I found a picture I had taken of the curio-cabinet that housed primarily Star Wars action figures, circa 1991 (I imagine it was a few years later but would be embarrassing to admit, seeing as I had made trousers for the brooding Luke Skywalker from Revenge of the Jedi and set up an infirmary for G.I.*Joe characters in need of repair—the rubber-bands for their twistable torsos having snapped with a waiting area). Besides the meticulously curated cast of the original saga, it is interesting to see who else shared this prime real estate: the villains of Cobra, an out-of-proportion Insectoid and Thundercat, Happy Meal toys, Animaniacs, PEZ dispensers and a few other sundries and ephemera are represented, including a student council campaign sticker advising to “free your mind.” I believe I still have everyone of these people, somewhere, and I think I ought to recreate this Wunderkammer.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

preterite or palabra jot

The German language is adaptive one, which irks many purists to no end—and most languages adopt certain prevailing styles from commerce and other engendering and endangering factors, as well, and one of the more irresonate constructions one commonly hears (though there are many others) is the German congegation of the English infinitive to google—googeln.

It is especially bizarre in the past tense, zum Beispiel: ,,Ich habe schon es gegoolgelt aber kein exakter Treffer gab” (I have already googled it but there were no exact matches) where one is just as likely to encounter gegoogled—which preserves the grammatical participles, artefacts of both languages, the ge- prefix and the -ed suffix. I wondered if there are parallels to be found elsewhere and I found some very well defined ways to communicate the act of an internet search, literally and figuratively:
 
Language Infinitive: to google Gerund: googling Past-Perfect: have googled
Dutch googelen googelde gegoogeld
Norwegian å google googly har googla
Spanish googlear googleando haber googleado
French googler googliser
googolisai

Most other European languages (and these certainly are not the sole representatives) that I could identify either had similar conjugations or did not bother to incorporate in greater detail, but I would like to learn more and see the list expanded. I am no polyglot and think that the pervasiveness of English does harm to lingual diversity in many cases but was very pleased to learn that come-lately words and concepts still have to stick to established rules.

media matters or upright citizens' brigade

In 1971 an activist group, after thorough planning and casing the facility burgled the Federal Bureau of Investigation's office in a small Pennsylvania town and obtained more than one thousand documents of a sensitive nature.
The Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI submitted the pilfered material, which revealed the extent of the Bureau's focus on the profiling and surveillance of pacifist organisation's and willingness to target petty crimes and inconsequential conduct and overlook larger, systemic damage done by groups with power and influence, to many press outlets but most of it went unpublished until (for fear of reprisal or doing damage to on-going operations) until a journal advocating non-violent resistance disclosed the entire cache. Ultimately, the revelations led to congressional investigations, which caused the Bureau to abandon its most controversial and politically motivated programmes, although the efforts were just splintered and buried with more secrecy and overtaken by more inscrutable agencies. The FBI let the case go after the expiration of the statue of limitations and the perpetrators went unknown until just now, with the release of a memoir and documentary on the break-in and players. Just after the get-away, one member recalls, they called a journalist from a phone-booth and delivered a powerful statement, challenging the members of the media who have demonstrated integrity and concern for the truth to help bring about reform and justice by broadcasting their modus operandi that prosecuted the war in Vietnam against the will of the America's to appease a few masters in politics and industry.

Friday, 14 February 2014

nakkaşhane

Via the ever serendipitous Neat-o-Rama comes a gallery from artist Murat Palta brilliantly depicting classic film scenes in the style of Ottoman miniature, the distinctive illuminated texts of the Sufi tradition. Nakkaşhane refers to the studios where the miniaturists worked and bound their painting. There are quite a few clever renderings, like the ones for Inception, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange and Alien, but my favourite (so far) was this reinterpretation of Return of the Jedi.



bertillonage or unfortunate incarceration

Forensic science and data-collection began in response to reforms in French law in 1832, which prevented the branding of criminals (like cattle). First-time offenders were given an indelible mark heretofore and the practise was followed in much of the world (a scarlet letter or compare the punishment of dismembering of some parts of the world).

Absent these visible signs, there was no way to identify a criminal—and likely recidivist, so copyist for the Paris police Alphonse Bertillon, out of frustration and a calling to contain especially anarchists, political hot-heads, conceived of the idea of profiling and a registry (French, fiche) of transgressors and invented the field of biometrics. Adopted world-wide, Bertillon's methods involved the newly invented photographic-documentation with a rigourous regime of weights and measures of different body parts, like the elaboration of the ears and length of the forearm, which projected points of chakras (useful for the police) to remember. Although contributing significantly to the burgeoning industry of photography with the establishment of mug-shots and unending galleries of those to look out for, the method for identity verification was overtaken by the technique of dactyloscopy, finger-printing, for practical reasons as the demands of Bertillon's way were too high, and it was not until the advent of closed-circuit television and facial-recognition software that could automate the cataloging of distinguishing markers that this kind of attention to detail is becoming en vogue again.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

billy-goat's gruff oder when there's trouble, you call d-w

Though better known right now for the its bishop being a bad custodian of tithes and negligent of his vows, Limburg an der Lahn (on the river—like Stratford-upon-Avon) is a pretty dynamic city, situated halfway between the megalopolises of Frankfurt and Köln. Recently civic planners and architects secured the permission to redistrict the arches and concrete pylons of the old valley Autobahn bridge, scheduled for decommissioning in 2016 due to age while a new span is being constructed for apartments, office-space and hotel. Historically, bridges were so zoned.  It looks like a pretty cool concept, if the realty firm involved can pull it off without squashing the vision, and think it would make the perfect lair for a brooding, reclusive super-hero—or a villain, like T-Bartz.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

seismograph or triple-witching

A certain breed of a meme has been circulating the internet since around last November, superimposing the contemporary US stock-market erratic-pulse with those of 1928 and 1929 in the period that led up to the crash and following world-wide Great Depression.

A market-watcher originally drew these parallels for entertainment, reportedly, but the analogy has held since. Projections often find their point-of-departure and yield something more surprising but it is nevertheless frightening what such a trend pre-supposes. This correlation and foreshadowing is especially interesting, as the announcement that the US House of Representatives support a capitulation that will raise, without conditions or visible trade-offs, the borrowing ability of the US government—the debt-ceiling. While it is money that America owes itself, the investors did not flinch, neither bombasting nor blanching at this development, and there are fictions about what this policy means at both extremes of the spectrum, it does seem like a delay of the inevitable, which is due in May of this year, according to the charts.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

study-hall oder archetype

One forgets, sometimes, how Wikipedia, and earlier with bibliomancy at the library or with encyclopedia articles, can be a digest for the curious.

Recently, one of its featured entries invited visitors to learn more about an auditorium, an art deco masterpiece, and research centre called the Atlantis House (Atlantis Haus, more historical photographs hier) in Bremen built during the interbellum years by an accomplished architect at the behest of a wealthy coffee-magnate.  The businessman was himself entranced by the theories of the ethnographer who would go on to found the Ahnenerbe Society. This group conducted expeditions, sponsored by the Nazi regime, to explore mythological and ideological links, mostly constructing specious and affirming connections. The function of this institution was to promote the theory that the Germanic race issued from a now sunken continent in the North Sea and were responsible for creating the continuum of civilisation that we've inherited from Mesopotamia. I wonder what sort of lectures were delivered there. I still recall vividly the feeling on learning that Hollywood treatments like the sagas of Indiana Jones and Hellboy were not without some basis in reality. That's a strange sort of legitimising to assume for one's posture.

Monday, 10 February 2014

grenzwache or crowd-sourcing

Sunday, the citizens of Switzerland went to polling stations to cast a plebiscite, whose assent is casting a chilling pall over the Confederation's relationship with the European Union and towards foreigners living there and prospectives as well. The matter of immigration reform and limits on the numbers of cross-border workers from neighbouring countries was put to a popular vote—which ironically has many crying foul of direct-democracy and those making the most clamor is the Germans who compromise the biggest single class of migrants and also wryly are facing, potentially the same kind of discrimination and quotas that immigrants from Turkey, Eastern Europe and beyond have to deal with when they come to Germany. French and Italian commuters are also concerned. The move, seen in part to protect native workers from outside competition and curb over-crowding—primarily of Ausländer, I suppose, suggesting a type of xenophobia that's just been codified, could see negative, punitive repercussions, as EU leadership question whether neutral Switzerland can continue its special tax-treaties with the bloc if they choose to reject their values and the thinning of boundaries. I wonder what forms sanctions could take. More tariffs could be levied against trade as a result. Politicians are also afraid, I think, of what kind of precedence such a decision—put into the hands of the majority without necessarily minority protection, might bode, what with such movements and closing of borders established throughout the union.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

bishop of bling, sultans of swing

As the Vatican is dealing with how to respond to a very frank and confessional survey, which was solicited at the highest levels, of members' attitudes towards sex and loving relationships that reveal in many ways an urgent need to reform, the Church is also dealing with the unresolved investigation, the verdict still out, into the deportment of Francis-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the suspended senior leader of the diocese of Limburg and also known as the Bishop of Bling for his extravagance.

The Church could probably do without this sort of publicity, and not for the sake of its image and whatever feedback such misguided behaviour or a polling brings but rather I think the Pope would not want the distraction of what's the stuff of headlines and relatively coherent scandals. These detract from real and substantial changes, which in many important ways ought not to be surprising since they are in their job descriptions, and already some quite significant shifts towards to humility, service and inclusion have been accomplished and indiscretions addressed by example, which I suppose might have been tolerated or even culturally encouraged under past regimes. Still, I do wonder—as I suppose I belong to that pastoral-zone, whether he calls himself T-Bartz as his behaviour does seem pretty gangster, not only ignoring run-away cost overruns for his apostolic seat but also taking vacations and maintaining a secret apartment at parishioners' expense.

a bird in the hand

Here is a clever and thoughtful review of the new book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by British reporter Oliver Burkeman, that also presents a brilliant and worthwhile exploration into the recesses and reaches of plans, contingencies and preparedness — the sort of responsible behaviours that are supposed to be key to success in any venture.

Burkeman, with interviews and testimonials of others, however, shows rather that an unflinching focus of on a rigid set of goals is more of a liability and the sort of safe achievement that we are most accustomed to and not something innovative, original and sustaining. Taking the next steps along the path to realise ones goals and resolutions, idealised or assumed and inherited, can sometimes be only for the sake of vanquishing that uncomfortable feeling when one does not know where to go next, and detours—rather than embraced as opportunities or sabbaticals, are seen as set-backs and getting back on the imagined right path can become something counter-productive or ultimately hopeless. There is much wisdom and solace to found in flexibility and improvisation, too.

red kuri squash soup with ginger and coconut milk

We tried a really simple but savoury and delicious recipe for a soup with Hokkaido Squash (also known as Red Kuri Squash or the Onion Squash, cultivated in Northern Japan) that's got a fusion of ingredients that one could vary and substitute infinitely.

For three to four servings, one will need:

  • One small Red Kuri Squash, about 500 grams (18 ounces)
  • One medium onion 
  • 3 medium sized carrots 
  • One one inch length of ginger root 
  • Veget- able bullion to make ½ a litre of broth (2 cups) 
  • 200 ml of coconut milk (about one cup) 
  • The juice of one lemon 
  • Butter (about two tablespoons) 
  • Salt, pepper, soy sauce and coriander leaves for garnishing and seasoning 

Hokkaido pumpkins do not need to be peeled—just slice and remove the seeds, and dice up the sections of the squash, onion, carrots and ginger root (removing the outer dry layer) in a food processor. Meanwhile bring the bouillon to a low boil. In a separate, large pot add the butter and transfer the diced vegetables to saute them for about three minutes, folding over the mixture so nothing gets overcooked. Pour in the vegetable broth and allow to simmer for about twenty minutes. Now that the vegetables are soft, puree the soup thoroughly with a hand-mixer directly in the pot and add the coconut milk and lemon juice. Stirring, introduce about two tablespoons of soy sauce and the other spices. Serve with a garnish of soy sauce and coriander leaves and a port or sherry.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

confectionery

The Presurfer pointed to this research project, that is certainly worth revisiting, concerning a group from the University of Tokyo study into creating an efficient battery out of more common substances that are in no short supply, sodium (salt) and sucrose (sugar). Traditional Lithium-ion batteries are very good at energy storage and have a relatively long lifetime, but extracting the metal, whose deposits are limited, is a dirty process and the disposal and repurposing usually is not very effective.

The team was making strides in developing a functional vehicle powering items and serving as a receptacle for holding energy until needed about a year and a half ago, but I was not able to locate much news regarding their progress. It seems like promising approaches—especially out of Japan, are sometimes disappeared down a rabbit hole, not out of some sort of conspiracy, I think, but without real explanation, nevertheless, like for all the really neat and clever technologies that won't work outside of Japan or that aren't for export—like those ultrasonic laundrettes or at least there was a significant lag time—like with using one's cell phone as a virtual wallet/coin-purse. I did learn, however, that last year, there was a summit held in the Basque region of Spain that focused on the continued growth of the so-called Sodium Battery (the sugar part is just an extreme carmelization process to make a carbon positive pole to the anodyne of Sodium—and recalls the origin of the word confection, from the Latin for to put together), which could prove instrumental in achieving a real sustainable balance between ecology and growing demand for power.

cornucopia or avon calling

With the support of two major constituencies within the Duma and farming cooperatives, a politician in Russia is championing the near total ban of importation and production of genetically modified foodstuff. Perhaps there is more to the story than is revealed in the top-level motivations, but I do nonetheless wish that other governments had the backbone to question the pratises and sloppy assurances given by the biotech industry, who as the bill's author says, are conducting a grand experiment on humanity and none of us are certain about neither immediate safety nor the long-term consequences.
Already, there are examples of unnatural organisms escaping into the food chain, flashy, patented designations like Aqua-Bounty® —a breed of salmon that has the genes of a fast growing eel spliced into its DNA, or the pollen of GM crops that mixes and mingles in neighbouring fields or the persistent mystery concerning the honey bee population all over the world. Aside from these uncharted risks, there is moreover the manner in which the companies sow their seeds: farmers who subscribe are not just getting a plant without an historic context but are also committing to a licensing agreement, a franchise sort of deal (like DRM or software-bundling for corn or hosts that demand one signs away ones content) as the crops only thrive if one douses them with pesticides (made by the same companies) and farmers agree to grow the same crops year after year and cannot get out of the contract, leading to distress and hopelessness for small farming operations.

spear-phishing

Via Boing Boing (and Wesley Crusher), there's a new low in despicable tactics in American politics. 
At least sixteen Picture Pages have been set up, presumably in contested jurisdictions, by campaigners in the Republican Party, which appear to be standard websites of Democrat incumbents up for re-election, at first glance, with a not unflattering big photograph of the representative and an over-sized button to click to make a donation. Closer examination, sometimes buried in the fine-print or not obvious at all, however reveals that the page is actually soliciting donations for the Democrat's rival. I don't think that anyone would be surprised to learn that politics are dirty and there's no dignities that won't be trounced on—but I do find it incredible that any subject-citizen would give to either cause, by hook or by crook, since there are not enough contributions in private hands in all of America to combat the influence-peddling of lobby-groups.

Friday, 7 February 2014

plying ones trade

I still don't know what to make of the situation and protest in (the country asked that the article the be dropped, as in the Netherlands, the Philippines and the Gambia in English as they are not in thrall to the Soviet Union) Ukraine, which seems equally divided between the status quo and the revolutionaries led by a professional boxer (who's also a twin and a PhD-holder) from Germany, but the stakes are certainly high.

US foreign relations, domestically at least, usually fails to grab much attention lately, unless in the form of secret-sharing and a frank discussion leaked has the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, in a conservation with the US ambassador to Ukraine, disdaining the champion for the opposition and westward leaning candidate in the running, favouring someone more experienced to safeguard American interests, neatly summarised by “Fuck the E.U.” This statement has had some coverage, but the difference is notable, whereas the release has enraged Europe, in the States, reporting focuses rather on the fact that the sound-bite, undisputed, originated from a Russian posting before circulating world wide, and in a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black, America is accusing Russia of spying, despite all the recursive news of US snooping, within and without. Perhaps America will say that the fugitive, Edward Snowden, holed up in Russia, was behind this leak, or she, the diplomat, earnestly meant that the European Union should not interfere with Ukraine's best interests... The other noteworthy nuance in the reporting is how American journalism must censor the expletive, while the rest of the world is mature enough to do without the bleeps and peep-tones.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

game-face or fortress olympiad

As the opening ceremonies for the Winter Games are about to commence the competition and camaraderie is certainly being over-shadowed by a side-show, which is graver by degrees, of official snubs, boycotts, poor labour conditions, negative civic and environmental impact, hastily built accommodations, the lockdown of the nation of Abkhazia for the duration of the event whose borders are just a few kilometres from the venue, and the rest of the security theatre.

The US has deployed two war ships to the Black Sea to serve as command-and-control stations, in case of an anticipated, anxiously awaited terrorist attack. This is a very odd display, especially when one wonders what battle ships could do to protect the athletes and spectators above and beyond what's already in place against America's random weaponised article generator, which has come up with explosives in tubes of toothpaste aboard a plane as a credible threat. It sort of sounds like the attempt (successful) to smuggle dinosaur eggs out of Jurassic Park in hollowed out cans of shaving-cream. Considering the curious case of the underpants bomber, I wonder how clever that these sort of schemes are. Despite how aggrevating such assessments and over-kill can be, I hope it's all for naught—the fortress, at least, and everyone can safely enjoy the show.

sede vacante

I have noted that some of the more progressive minds can transform into be the most oppressive and narrow-minded when presented with dissent in any sort. I think that this may be the case in the United Nations' damning assessment of the Vatican (not the appendages of the Holy See, which is an important limitation) over its disposition towards women's rights and sexual orientation. Meanwhile, the Church is trying to reform its ways when it comes to child-protection, another but very valid complaint in need of changing. I wonder, however, if this wholesale pointing out of the obvious is not just a grab at low-hanging fruit, since the UN nor by European (the Vatican does not claim EU membership) channels would dare challenge other convictions (religions, traditions) and articles of faith over lifestyle and preaching.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

caveat lector or recently improved content

In response to a formal study that confirmed that Wikipedia is not only the resource of first-instance for hypochondriacs and the morbidly curious but also for physicians and aspiring students, a professor at a Californian medical school is offering as an elective a course in proofing and editing articles on health, medicine, and disease in order to ensure an accurate and reliable resource for the public—and the professionals. Wikipedia protocols will still be enforced, gladly, to stave off authoritarian language that's questionable or unsupported, doctors' jingoism, and the use of jargon.

monumenta germaniae historica

Coinciding with the star-studded premiere of the feature film on this courageous profiles in conservatorship, the Smithsonian is exhibiting many photographs and artefacts from its archives to enhance the portrayal of the so-called “Monuments Men.”

Those under siege, historians, connoiseuirs, academics as well as the generals storming Europe realised what defining treasures were at risk, not only through plunder but as collateral damage. Just before the D-Day (Operation Overlord) invasion, Eisenhower, among others, personally charged each commander with the responsibility of protecting and respecting the monuments that they would encounter—irreplaceable and important representatives of the what they are struggling to save. War leaves its physical scars and there are many restoration projects to this day, but just imagine what sort gaps in the skyline or in the galleries there would be without the work of this corps.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

personae, pandora

Conceived as sort of an electronic annual, a year book ten years ago for an elite university in a dorm room, the reigning social network has matured and seems to have come of age, established and hard-wired.

Of course, it's only a platform that could be easily unseated, as were its predecessors and it is the behavior of its users—like the adage a leader is not leader without the support of his or her first follower, that craft how we communicate. It is not, I think, the other way around—beneath the surface lexical and semantic shifts, such changes in the way we communicate are expressions, important ones—nonetheless, of statements that would have been voiced already in one fashion or another.
I cannot say whether the lure of the instantaneous and easy and convenient is taking away from native creativity (rather than enhancing it) or more artistic, meaningful or fulfilling pursuit—but if that is the case, I think people are still quick (mostly, at least as quick as they would be otherwise) to realise that that chance is not easily retaken, but there is more than just a change in our vocabularies or ways of coddling our own sense of indolence or procrastination in the simple fact that the Internet does not forget and reminders are lightly stirred. I believe, if used correctly, that could be a supplement rather than a liability too, but considering the current climate, telecommunication providers being prosecuted for complicity and governments being held liable for their abidance, it seems that we are not very good at self-censorship and temperance.

Monday, 3 February 2014

hors d'oeuver or hors taxes

There is an apparently flourishing business for pizza and for others in the meals on wheels service on the German side of Swiss borderlands.

This scheme, however, is threatened by a new requirement to electronically file customs declarations for cross-border deliveries. It was already worthwhile for those kitchens and customers positioned to do so to comply with the tariffs, saving some ten francs or more compared to domestic fast-food and a system for collection was already in place but to force bankers' hours on an industry that's spontaneous and relies on people's sloth and failure to plan many times could prove disastrous for some opportunists. Diners and delivery personnel would be treated like smugglers. I wonder what kind of antics might ensue to keep up with demand and I wonder how the official assigned to that toll-house might feel about his or her job.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

black hole or all light is mute amid the gloom

Sadly, accomplished Austrian actor Maximilian Schell (* 1930, † 2014) passed away over the weekend, and taking time to review his expansive list of roles on stage, screen and air, I saw that one of his credits included the megalomaniacal foil in the 1979 Disney production of the film Black Hole—which was an all-around provoking psychedelic performance for a little kid to see, and reflected on the bizarre nature of that movie. Critic and veteran blogger John Muir gives an excellent dissection of the film's brilliance—from a Manichean gauntlet of good and evil to the subtle departure of sentient robots earning souls. Doctor Reinhardt (Schell) even in the final scenes in the inferno of the event horizon (the concept having recently been discounted by the physicists that originally championed the idea) is fused with the sinister robot, Maximilian. The character was portrayed with Schell's signature passion—and the story is really a Heart of Darkness writ small. The summary and analysis got me thinking about how affecting such cinematic experiences could be, more so than the better-known contemporary block-busters that over-shadowed this movie, like the Star Wars or the Star Trek franchises, and saw me often retreat to the sandbox in the backyard to rehearse what kind of ceremony was fitting for that heat-death of the universe that I had heard about, rather than the more imminent threats of global-thermal nuclear war.
There were a lot of singular influences, like the anime feature Galaxy Express 999 (1978), where an orphaned little boy shuns technology promising immortality by having ones memories but not emotions transferred to robotic vessels, plus also other Disney productions, which discounting all fairy tales, were not really made for young audiences, like the Witch Mountain (1975) series, about telekinetic extra-terrestrial children on the lamb from the government, or Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971, compare to the Narnia or the Middle Earth sagas) which is a story about coping with evacuation during the Blitz of London during WWII and a sorceress defeats the Nazi invasion. Formative, I am grateful that kids' entertainment was not handled with kid-gloves and subject to censor and psychologists.

pastiche

We tried something new in the kitchen with a vegetarian pastitsio (Pastizio)--sort of the Greek equivalent of a lasagne or macaroni casserole. It was pretty fun to prepare and tasted very good.

For four servings, you will need:

  • Approximately 360 grams (13 ounces) of macaroni noodles 
  • 200 millilitres (7 fluid ounces) of soy-based cream or milk 
  • 200 grams (7 ounces) of sour cream (Schmand) 
  • 200 grams (7 ounces) of tofu as the base for the bolognese sauce—one could also substitute ground beef
  • A 200 gram (7 ounce) lump of fresh mozzarella
  • 1 cube of vegetable stock
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 200 grams (7 ounces) of tomato puree (passierte Tomaten, sonst Tomatenmark)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Oregano, thyme, basil, salt, pepper, red pepper power and cinnamon to season

Bring to boil the noodles in water with a bit of salt and then drain and set aside—about four minutes and not thoroughly cooked. Preheat the oven to 220ºC (425ºF).

For the filling (where the metaphorical meaning of pastiche comes from and you can try your own mix of ingredients), finely chop up the carrot, onion and garlic in a food-processor and fry in olive oil and then puree about four tomatoes (or use puree from a can) and add that and the tofu to the pan.
Introduce the bullion cube and season with salt, pepper, oregano, thyme and basil. Allow the sauce to continue to cook until it really thickens up. Transfer the bolognese and noodles to a large casserole dish and mix together while pouring in the cream or milk. Next spread the top of the dish with a thick layer of the sour cream.
Tear the lump of mozzarella into large, flat pieces and cover the surface and season with the red chili power and a bit of salt and pepper. Lastly, sprinkle the entire surface liberally with cinnamon. Bake for around 45 minutes. The cinnamon seems like an unusual ingredient but really enhances the medley of tastes and no one notices the meatless bolognese.

the wedding planner

Here's a fun gallery of wedding photographs from Russia, which are anything but traditional—I think, and a lot of them employ image-manipulation tools to superimpose the happy couple—or render themselves as centaurs.

Beauty (and taste) is always in the eye of the beholder and though many of these pictures looked photo-bombed, the couples (mostly) look like they are having a good time. I think, however, that these failings to capture ones better side, especially for these treasured moments, are directly linked to the persecution of the gays, who might be able to offer a different, outside perspective on deportment.

boreal, austral

These are not climes we've ventured to ourselves yet, so it is proving exciting to learn about the ice caps and their ancient and modern histories via the ever-excellent Atlas Obscura's Polar Week. Be sure to check out more of their curious and far-flung post-cards from exotic places.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

continuum or billions and billions

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson will be hosting an updated version of the television programme Cosmos: A Personal Journey, Carl Sagan's seminal series on astronomy and space exploration, with the support of another fan and curator, animator Seth MacFarlane, whom has endowed the US Library of Congress with a collection of lectures, papers and correspondence from the renowned scientist and his wife (Kottle shares an interesting artefact and more news about the upcoming show—I received a letter from the late Dr. Sagan in response to a physics question I posed, as well), Ann Druyan, who selected the musical compositions etched into the golden records carried by the Voyager space probes. The series will be called Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey and will be produced for the National Geographic Channel and syndicated by the Fox Network.

sistine candles or in the room, the women come and go, talking of michelangelo

Mental Floss has an interesting article that reveals the original reasons behind the ban on photography and the taking of videos in the Sistine Chapel, adorned with breath-taking the breath-taking frescoes of Michelangelo in this private chapel of the Apostolic Palace and ante-chamber to the vast Vatican museum compound, was not in fact to protect the art from the crackle of light from billions of flash-bulbs but had more to do with licensing agreements that the Holy See granted to one of the biggest financial supporters of the restoration project. Started in 1980 and lasting nearly two decades, the prospect of reviving the walls and ceiling, un-re-touched since their completion in 1512 and stained with incense and candle smoke, was a very expensive undertaking and a big entertainment consortium from Japan helped extensively with the bill.
In exchange, the group had exclusive rights to reproducing high-quality images of the interior and documented each stage of the restoration work. Their rights have since expired but the ban—more or less, still remains in effect. It is really a sight to behold in person, as Goethe said after visiting in 1797, “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.” No photographs can do it justice and if you must take mementos, please tread lightly.

god didn't make the little green apples

Who knew that trees could be so apparently anti-social? One of the most poisonous trees in the world—I am not sure what others are in this category—is native to Florida and the Bahamas and Caribbean and are called Manchineel—from the epithet that early Spanish explorers gave to their poison fruit manzanita de le muerte, little apples of death.

Lots of berries and such are toxic to humans and the apples are bad but not the worst in this tree's arsenal. Groves of trees have warning signs admonishing the curious to stay far away, as the sap is also extremely caustic (even indirectly) and can cause burns to the skin with exposure and smoke from burning the tree can lead to permanent blindness. Other accounts of explorers said that the sap from the Manchineel was the source for poison blow-darts and the like. These trees, however, serve an important ecological role, as their sturdy and mostly undisturbed system of roots helps prevent beach erosion.