Wednesday, 30 April 2014

esquire or let me tell you a story about freedom

I have been selected to take a Foreign Service exam in a couple of months and I am delving into civics lessons as I find the time.  Practice quizzes reveal the test mostly to be general-knowledge and fun Double Jeopardy! (from the administrative embargo that protects a defendant legitimately tried and either pardoned or prosecuted from being subject again to the same charges—en France, autrefois acquit, and is codified in America by the Fifth Amendment to the US ) type questions.   There are fortunately none of those pesky sports and television categories.  I am able to sprint fairly well through the rehearsal batteries, though when actually trying to study, I get too distracted by footnotes and hyperlinks.  For instance, did you know that the most legendary amendment that failed to be ratified under house rules, but only by a very narrow margin, was the measure to strip individuals of US citizenship for accepting a title of nobility from a foreign monarch and would be banned from holding a position of trust in perpetuity?

The proposal came before the states two years ahead of the sideshow skirmish, the War of 1812, between the US and the UK (when Europe was dealing with much larger problems with the Napoleonic Wars) that came about over unresolved grudges and America designs on the rest of the continent.  Another theory for the impetus was the marriage of American heiress Betsy Bonaparte (née Patterson) to the conquering emperor’s brother, Jérôme—to Napoleon’s grave displeasure—and hopes of securing her own title, or for their son called Bo. Although cause and effect seem reversed in the first case and the timing is a bit off in the latter, for whatever reason the proposal came about, indeed some hold that the measure did actual meet the minimum requirements for passage in state legislatures and because of the state of communication at the time, the matter was dropped prematurely.  In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton expressed, “Nothing need be said to illustrate the importance of the prohibition of titles of nobility. This may truly be denominated the corner stone of republican government; for so long as they are excluded, there can never be serious danger that the government will be any other than that of the people…” Only that that were the only threat to a government by and for the people.  Now, mostly regarded as a historical curiosity—though as Congress imposed no time limits on the adoption of this amendment, it could still be passed, like the latest one passed in 1992 after pending for 202 years regarding the Legislative Branch raising its own salary—numerically, it would have been the thirteenth amendment—which came about some fifty-five years later, abolishing the institution of slavery.  Sometimes it’s good to be side-tracked and chase shining-objects.

hair-don’t

Following a vocal outcry of US service-members complaining that the latest embellished regulation of allowable hair-styles is bigoted and puts undue onus on certain individuals, the secretary of defense is directing each branch to take a second look at its new rules (the Army’s standards pictured here) and present their revised recommendations.
Such histrionics are not limited to peace-time armies, I suppose, and feel instantly more secure knowing that no unauthorized scrunchie could evade detection.  What do you think?  Are these unnecessary accommodations or is more sensitivity needed?


Tuesday, 29 April 2014

tug-o'-war or ambisinistrousness

Spiegel’s international desk has an interesting analysis regarding an unlikely affinity that far-right, pro-nationalist parliamentarians and political parties are finding in Russia’s stance towards its former satellite states.  Though there are East-West tensions similar to the chill of the Cold War, the conservative composition of the European caucuses looking to promote Russian partnership, covering the spectrum of maturity, repute and platforms that are often xenophobic, populist and anti-European Union, could not be of a more different leaning that the leftist politicians that many Western governments feared would side with the East and the communists, harbouring sympathies that threatened to further dismantle social pecking-order, whose preservation is the primary character of the right-wing. 

Russia and the Soviet Union, of course, are of very different stripes too.  I suppose too that some of the maverick representatives, hoping to secure more seats in the supranational congress, are finding a role-model to aspire to with the authoritarian style of leadership that’s unwilling to be reigned-in. There is a riposte to this strange alliance, however, that does not exactly emanate from the other side of the aisle—an ambisinistrous individual has nothing to do with a Transdnistrian but is rather someone who is uncoordinated, having “two left hands,” the opposite of being ambidextrous—with some primed to blame a shift in the parliamentary balance on Moscow propaganda and rallying of parties, those weaker and already disenfranchised allies, to undermine cohesion in Europe and subvert the EU’s willingness to cooperate with America and back American policy.  While I cannot foresee some up-and-comer of la droite becoming a grip-knot (or slip-knot) in this battle, it is nonetheless an important corollary to note how much distrust there is about siding with the USA or jeopardizing standing-relationships.  There is no beggaring the enemy of my enemy here and both sides seem to sense that there is something suppressed and duplicitous about one another and even their own posture.

Monday, 28 April 2014

workers of the world

Today marks the fusion of the International Labour Organisation’s Workers’ Memorial Day with the United Nation’s observance to promote health and safety in the workplace.

Taking the occasion to mourn for those lives lost due to hazardous conditions and people maimed and made chronically unwell by comforts that could be easily and reasonably accommodated began with the Canadian passage of a comprehensive on-the-job injury compensation act a century ago, on the eve of Labour Day.  The UN’s piggy-backing on the holiday highlights ergonomics and focuses on fostering safer working environments.  Despite America’s efforts to thwart May Day celebrations—repackaging the day first as “Americanization Day” after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and then as “Loyalty Day” during the McCarthy-era in the 1950s before finally moving it to September to distance it from what was considered Communists' leanings—though the May Day roots are in fact American in origin, both holidays are still internationally respected and kept, at least by those they honour.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

hyponym or litotes

The American Scholar presents its list—with no special or commemorative reason or fan-fanfare, of its come-by-honestly best sentences in English literature.

It, the list, seems thoroughly modern and familiar yet the choices are far from pedestrian and quite resounding and evocative. The selection certainly has reciprocated a lot of good feedback and other nominees to explore. What would you include? Do you find the choices to be heavily orientated towards bulwer-litany, purple-prose? There is a lot to be said for pithiness, as well as the edifying and complete. However—I am happy to be reminded that there are people yet as passionate and cuckolded by words.

logos, pathos, ethos

Through a revue of several studies on the subject, Brain Pickings' weekly digest presents an engrossing and thorough introduction to the Eastern concept of wu wei (无为 and literally English for non-doing).
In a social framework where performance, exception- alism, and perfection are the measures of success, this notion of adaptive effort- lessness—not detachment or doing by rote but rather acquired reflexes and instincts—is something akin to the idea of flow, only recently given a name in the modern West. Perhaps this reluctance, generally accorded to savants and the like, is due to the learned incompatibility, as one author suggests, among intuitive thoughts and cognition—sort of like the proscriptions on mingling faith and science. Governance may well be achieved by the evolution of regulation and institution for subjects to obey but a real sense of community, epitomized by the construction wu wei wu (effortless doing), is cultivated with a set of values, respect, rights and freedoms that are felt independently of the rules that chase after them.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

peerage or content mill

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just made itself redundant by yielding to the whims of a few powerful industry-lobbyists and no longer being a good and conscientious steward of the frequencies, airwaves, ripples and what’s fit to print and abandoning key provisions in the concept of so-called Net Neutrality, which they were championing not so long ago (the reversal happening almost within the same breath of praise for relinquishing its control over the domain naming system).

Essentially FCC will grant license for service providers and major content providers—those with means and influence, like film-on-demand brokers and major labels in the entertainment business (plus, I imagine, clearinghouses holding the copyrights of popular or coveted images—leading to a lot of ugly watermark mark-ups), to negotiate arrangements to deliver their services with special priority.  This two-speed internet is a way of discriminating against the little to unknown, ensuring that it remains so, as there would be no chance to profit from its promotion.  This badgering of search results (I am feeling unlucky, auf gut Glück) prejudices what users and creators can find and learn, even if it is limited to specific partnerships whose affiliation are reviewed by the commission, and has the potential to render the internet as one big billboard, like some NASCAR vehicle.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

gleeman oder allons-y

I had the chance to visit the nearby Nibelungenstadt of Alzey in the Rheinland.  Along with Speyer and Passau and many other towns and villages on the banks of Germany’s great rivers, this location is mentioned in the catalogue of places referenced by the saga of the Nibelungen.  Although in the case of Alzey, an ancient settlement going back to the times of the Celts and Romans, its association to the epic is only in the family roots of an itinerant minstrel, a gleeman, of the royal court of the Burgundians at their palace in Worms, who later fought with the other knights against the Hun tribes, called Volker von Alzey—the gleek.  I searched for clues for the Rheingold, nonetheless.
The town is really regaled with this connection—appearing in the town’s crest and in a dozen street and shop names.  There is an imaginative watering-hole installation in the Horse Market (Rossmarkt) of the old town for, I suppose, Volker’s steed.  Another very nice bronze sculpture there was this monument to stewardship and conserving ones architectural heritage, although I missed Alzey’s landmark (Wahrzeichen)—which is a high medieval observation tower on the outskirts of the city I suppose I can try to find next time through.
The castle in Alzey has a long history, dating back to 1120 and stands as testament to the idea behind the sculpture of the man raising the roof beam in its present form, reconstructed after the Nine Years’ War over the line of succession to the Palatinate throne, rather than being completely razed or kept in ruins as many were, the victorious wanting to leave their own legacy or reminders of destruction.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

unfairhandelbar

Though fears over diluted environmental, finance, labour and consumer safety standards are in the forefront of the highly unsymmetrical and covert bargaining going on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which aims to promote business by removing certain bothersome obstacles, there are subtler concerns that are not being addressed in any public forum, I believe:  many bad things for Europe, without the possibility for reciprocation by making US regulations more stringent according to a continental model, are coming down the sluice and I suspect that the floodgates will be thrown open for the American entertainment cartel with ruinous consequences for local culture.
Neither the airwaves nor the cinema certainly are closed to American productions presently and there are quotas in place to ensure that domestic pieces are given air-time.  There is a different attitude towards film and literature in America, however, as opposed to Europe, where such institutions are enshrined and supported by governments and not treated like any other commodity.  The landscape for publishing houses (though Verlag are not altruistic over here either, exactly), labels and other stakeholders is something smooth-shod, flattened out by sure sales and reflective of the top-twenty and blockbusters and big chain stores—that all sell the same thing—and could also infiltrate the educational system with over-priced pulp-non-fiction.  Opponents have already cried foul that TTIP was a backhanded route to the provisions of ACTA, ultimately rejected by the European Union, and although the same propriety language is not present in the newest incarnation, TTIP is looking like an even more sinister and sneaky delivery system to put culture and colloquy in the hands of a few industry giants and sadly a more effective way to destroy competition and alternatives, since the stress on potential profits might play a bigger role in what gets imagined. 

hegemon

Adolf Hitler might have had the laurels of greatest politician ever, a uniter and not a divider, had he ceased with the notion of collecting willingly German lands—Austria, the Memel, the Elsaß, Danzig and the Sudetenland.

Time magazine, after all, awarded him with the honour of Man of the Year—when that distinction meant more. Although the dread rhetoric of subversion and extermination were already presenting in terrible and prescient forms by the time of the campaign, the calling-in, it bears little difference to the re-balance of powers that America and Russia promulgated in Asia and South America, chasing down their kissing-kin, unrelenting and with dire consequences which are not to be over-looked or regulated to the times. What do you think?  Contemporary times can also be deceptive and the victors become the authoritative historians.  How much chest-pounding is too much?

Monday, 21 April 2014

in the groove or playing life in hard mode

Hungarian psychology professor Csíkszentmihályi Mihály is a renowned teacher and researcher in the field of positive psychology, having to do with the creative drives and happiness as well as the stamina behind those motivations that are enduring and genuine.

Csíks- zentmihályi, holding that the only true rewards can be found in self-imposed discipline—rather than repression, whether indoctrinated or at the whip of slave-drivers', was the chief landscaper behind the concept of flow, the equilibrium of high levels of both skill and challenge that are ultimately most sustaining and intrinsic awards. Entertainers, it seems, most often are presented such demands but I suspect that we are all taken to task in one way or another, when concentration is most intense and distractions are not admitted. At the opposite corner of this flow-chart, one is met with apathy, understood as a demand that is not engaging or easily unseated. Here is a blank template for this graphic—in case you want to understand in ones own terms and might want to name specific states of mind. I would never suggest that certain practised assignments ever become the stuff of apathy, but it would do one good to question and assess what's truly in the flow.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

look to this day graduates

With graduation ceremonies not far-afield and on-going but muted controversies over pedagogy and educational policies are becoming endemic to America's system and hand-wringing over commencement speakers, Brain Pickings' weekly newsletter features an endearing review of collected reflections from author Kurt Vonnegut, JR about his years of touring that circuit.

If this isn't Nice, What is? (with the subtitle: advice to the young) is a recursive title for the essays and memories since no other message could be as important and galvanising? Vonnegut delivers many, many noteworthy gems on community, society and being human but one that really struck me (building on his exhortation to curate more and more relatives through membership and outreach) was how “a computer can teach a child what a computer can become... an educated human being teaches a child what a child can become” and this was formulated in 1999. The over-arching and hopeful message that this gadfly was intent on delivering was that of being grateful and appreciating, feelings that we all tend to find estrangingly distant and are more used to agonising over small things and substitute for the former genuine feelings with indulgence or the resignation that things could be worse and bubbles of comfort and security. Check out at least the brilliant treatment of Maria Popova or better yet, read the entire book.

four-and-score

No matter what your jurisdiction or cachet, it is well-nigh impossible to be much more exalted than when Easter Sunday corresponds with 04-20.

The annual observance is derived from what was a daily ritual among California high school students, announcing, in code, that they would gather at a predeter- mined location at four-twenty in the afternoon to smoke. This call sign was transposed to the 20th of April (American time and dating style) as a holiday for Cannabis Culture. In honour of this coincidence, I thought it apt to direct ones attention to the beautiful gallery of microscopic slides of the marijuana plant's morphology that the excellent website Neat-o-Rama featured a few days earlier. The images are truly astounding and appropriate, like this extreme close-up of a growing bud, which looks like the other-worldly hiding place for a cache of colourful Easter eggs.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

rückstoß oder harmonium

Loans that the European Union thrust upon Ukraine in its moment of crisis were not exactly given without stint, since among the terms and conditions were pledges for austerity, if an any way the loans could counter-balance Russian calling in of debts and payments in arrears that would completely bankrupt the country. These measures have taken the form of closing down mining and factory operations in the eastward-leaning east—in what's being touted as necessary streamlining, which is sure to exacerbate already tenuous sentiment.

And while these economic proxies for actual conflict are happening, there is actual spoiling for battle, which in itself, I believe, is only a cover for economic rather than ideological stakes. Rather than allow a partnership from Lisbon to Vladivostok to come into being, which would certainly rival American chances to regain prowess in market terms and political influence, the US is pushing NATO to adopt a policy of sandbagging rather than one of bridge-building and would like nothing better than to invest in a few skirmishes along this border region, which despite the cost, will yield high dividends by preserving the status quo and giving the military-industrial complex another outlet. It's strange how demurring statecraft and chest-pounding have become, heels dug in without quite appreciating the ground stood.

völva

The fantastic site of strange and curious travel destinations, Atlas Obscura, is hosting a week dedicated to some of the celebrated and unknown marvels of Iceland. There are quite a lot sights to see on the remote island, both awe-inspiring or odd—or just plain inspired like the pictured on-going construction of the massive “Arctic Henge” monument in the aura of the aurora near the northern village of Raufarhöfn, whose layout is not only the cycles of sagas and epic poems expressed in monolithic architecture but also aims to become a pilgrimage sight for neo-pagan practitioners.

strahlende

320° Licht is a massive installation that maps beams of light on the cylindrical interior of a decom- missioned gasometer in Oberhausen (in the Ruhrgebiet) to create a dazzling cathedral from twenty-one high powered projectors. The project is just part of a larger series hosted in that tunneling venue called the “Appearance of Beauty,” ,,der schöne Schein.”

Thursday, 17 April 2014

dovunque al mondo or rent to own

Last night I got a chance to spend a cultural evening out and saw moving production of Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly, hosted in the very fancy venue of the storied state theatre.  I was expecting tragedy and melodrama, being an opera, but did not recall the actual story and subject, thinking wisps of what I remembered to be possibly a contemporary interpretation: an American naval officer is stationed in Nagasaki at the turn of the century, and through the US Consul acting as an intermediary, purchases a house staffed with domestics and is introduced to the breathtaking and available Butterfly. 

Despondent and restless though afraid to make a commitment, the Navy officer decides to wed Butterfly—at least until he can find a "proper American wife" and due to Japanese mores and marriage laws (as interpreted at the time by an Italian librettist) in comparison to the relatively stricter rules regarding divorce (but not polygamy) in America.  The officer, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton speaks of a lease of nine-hundred ninety nine years with the option of quiting in the coming months.  Butterfly has already garnered her family’s displeasure by marrying a foreigner—a wealthy local businessman is also making overtures for Butterfly's affections but she rebuffs his advances, and covertly converts to Christianity for the sake of her new life, renouncing Buddhism and her ancestral, household gods.  A short while later, the officer is assigned to another port of call in the US and is away for three years.  Butterfly divulges to the Consul, whom she hopes to implore for her husband to return, that she had born the officer a son in secret.
The Consul does manage to arrange the officer's return, but the officer brings his new American bride with him and plans to take custody of the young child and raise him in America.   This modern opera is itself a direct adaptation of earlier stories, but I am not sure in what context and what allegorical elements are intentionally writ, how direct and literal, but it was certainly the musical element of the score that came across as most emotive. As the orchestra was striking its limbering cacophony before the curtains parted, those strains they played of the Star-Spangled Banner, the US anthem—were random exercises, like hearing snatches from the Miss Marple theme or scales during this warm-up—and not samplings from the liet motif. We'll have to have a night at opera together real soon.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

sky of blue, sea of green

Kottke reports on an exciting application from the American navy which successfully demonstrates that the components of sea water can be easily converted into fuel—almost directly from the laboratory without intervening conceptional re-engineering. It seems nearly too terribly simple and straightforward to be true, a few more technical details found on the link. Though this engine, work-horse portends to be primarily a barge system, something for slowly but steadily transporting cargo en mass, if it delivers on its promise, I can imagine gondoliers—or private submariners below—punting about through urban waterways and the relaunch of thalassocracies, maritime powers that ruled the spaces between lands when it seemed that buoyancy mattered more.

call box

Locals, in Cheltenham just three kilometers from the GCHQ campus, believe that guerrilla graffiti
artist Banksy may have been behind this mural of authorities wiring tapping this phone booth. Area residents are delighted and the artwork has become a big tourist attraction.

Monday, 14 April 2014

kleinstaaterei

With the level of public will or involvement remaining unclear and the source of dissent an elusive factor—strange to consider in the first place that regions are careening towards the right to assert their independence with only the ultimate goal being to align themselves with another power in sight, the cities of Ukraine, though under the microscope and garnering much attention, do tend to be overlooked, imagined out of context, scale or compartmentalised.  Much is being said about psyche and exceptionalism, the economic importance of the industrial eastern part of the country, the need for stability and security thereof with also quite a bit of name-calling, like the US styling of counter insurgency efforts by the government in Kyiv as anti-terror operations or pledges to shore up debts, but there is little in terms, I think, in terms of profiles for these metropolitan cities, which have their own character and history.

Donetsk grew out of factory workers’ dormitories built by a steel and coal magnate from Wales named John James Hughes in 1869 (strangely, not long after hostilities ended), while under commission for the Russian Imperial Navy.  The settlement was originally named Hughesovka in honour of the Welch industrialist, who was a genius although functionally illiterate and could not read minuscule letters—Юз, yuz being the closest approximate sound.  Staffed with skilled and well-educated workers, the metalworks soon grew self-sufficient and with the Bolshevik revolution, the city’s name changed several times.  It seems hard for a boom town—especially one that has never gone bust, just like so many in this region, that is relatively young as well, to establish for itself an identity—and I am sure being known, by turns, as Yuzovka, Trotsk, Stalino and then after a tributary of the Don river, may have not helped with cohesion.  Looking on from outside, I am astounded by the vast swaths of land that continue to defy recognition and know there’s much unknown out there, aided and hindered by the tough schooling in geography that conflict teaches—since, although this rust belt (Donetsk incidentally won international recognition as the cleanest factory town in the world, in 1970) is emerging as the focus of attention, having of course existed all along (or at least since its founding, not all that long ago) and having existed as an independent entity even under Soviet auspices but it was easier to understand the map as a bloc, it is also a struggle to follow along with the series of contentions and we become prone to perfunctory judgments.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

legend

If you travel as much as we do, you might find yourselves outgrowing the standard quiver of icons that come with Google Maps. Adding to the compliment is easy and I have re-coloured the map markers for many future adventurers, distinguished by the broadening palette. Though they are not the sharpest tacks, please feel free to use them (clicking on each icon as the source image for the symbol on your personalised map) or create your own cartographic legend. Keep in mind the parameters for the standard icons are 32 by 32 pixels and use a imaging-program that retains the transparency for portable network graphics (.PNG) format files.

dii consentes

The funny and clever site College Humor has created a pantheon of gods and goddess that patronise different spheres of internet activity. This list is pretty good and surely you've encountered all these deities embodied in some form or another. What other olympians or minor gods in residence (Ganymede, Cupid or Momus, the god of satire and mockery—Iris, the personification of the rainbow) would you include as internet titans?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

timeliness, objectivity, narrative

We all would instantly recognize the iconic and candid images of photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt, and know them just by a caption of a few words, limning in the rest—but before Kottke shared this spontaneously happy picture, I did not realise who it was on the other side of the shutter, much less appreciate that the litany of celebrated pictures were courtesy of the same individual. Eisenstaedt had a definite excelling talent for finding himself in the right place at the right time, as well for framing a subject, and captured such unforgettable subjects for Life magazine as the couple kissing in Times Square for Victory over Japan Day, Albert Einstein, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Goebbels at the League of Nations (as we know them) and the ice-skating waiters of St. Moritz.

saargebiet oder neutral moresnet

Prior to the treaties and terms that were drawn up at the conclusion of the World Wars, the German state of Saarland had no cohesive identity and did not exist as an administrative division, until after WWI, French forces governed the area as a protectorate, the resource-rich region having historic connections to both countries and, like neighbouring Alsace, dominated by each power at different times over the centuries. The goal of long term occupation was that France could recover from the industrial ravages of the Great War and prevent Germany's rearmament through the coal and mineral deposits in this land. With the end of the following war, Saarland once again became a French protectorate with the surrender and when German territory was divided amongst the Allied Forces, which was not reunited with the rest of Western Germany until 1957 with what is referred to as die Kleine Wiedervereinigung. The French also had designs on another region, to the north, the heavily industrial and more resource-rich lands of the Ruhr Valley (Ruhrgebiet) of North-Rhine Westphalia.

French negotiators felt that the Ruhrgebiet should either be managed like the Saar Protectorate or be created as a separate condominium state—like the singular case of Andorra, ruled by two co-princes, the president of France and the Spanish bishop of Urgell, or the strange compromise reached a century earlier in the sliver of land called Neutral Moresnet (Esperanto was also the official language of this tiny country), which was a shared responsibility between the Kingdoms of Prussia and Belgium. A zinc mine, the region's only significant source, was located here and the committee that redrew the map after the last spate of warring wanted to ensure that no one country could monopolise the supply. American and British representatives, however, felt that France's demands went too far and taking away the country's industrial-base would make rebuilding the war-torn land impossible. Concessions were arrived at, however, and in exchange for being able to re-establish itself as an independent federal republic, West Germany agreed to pool its coal and steel resources with the rest of Europe and impose quotas on how much it could use domestically.

Friday, 11 April 2014

pelagic or teuthology

During the golden age of exploration—which continued charting well into the early twentieth century—most notable were expeditions to the ends of the earth, planting flags at the poles, however one adventurous researcher cast his ambitions towards an unknown middle-distance, under the waves.  Restricted to plumbing the depths from the surface, Carl Friedrich Chun launched an excursion on the steamship Valdivia from the port of Hamburg to explore the deep seas.  The zoologist and resident expert in marine biology (a teutholog is one who studies cephalopods, octipuses, cuttlefish, nautilus and squids) at the University of Leipzig contrived new ways to fish for specimens and bring his haul to the surface.
True to the mission and cutting the figue of a Jules Verne character, the voyage rounded the southern cape of Africa and made calls in the South Seas before heading into the subantarctic (below/above) region.  Collection efforts were difficult, as many of the strange and never before seen monstrosities harvested disintegrated due to having adapted to the great pressures of the deep, and most samples, like the anglerfish, with its lantern and gaping maw, defied study and classification for years, unobserved in their native environment.  Chun, however, does have several new creatures credited to his name, including the vampire squid (from Hell), so called for its black cloak that draped its tentacles, arrayed with spines—and outfitted with night-lights.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

every good boy does fine or eisenhower, diesel

 A clever little article from Mentalfloss begs how “i before e, except after c” could ever have been considered a useful or valid guide, mnemonic device for spelling or pronunciation for the English language. I suppose the exception makes the rule, what with so many words borrowed and the legacy of origins. Maybe that was the point for Champion Charlie Brown.  There are no answers, really, but the chance to think about etymology and its heritage harvest in the imparting and continuation is nonetheless interesting.

greystoke or bungle in the jungle

There is certainly an echo-chamber for disinformation and hyperbole in the press sounding Russian and NATO posture and it is difficult to know what to believe and which exaggerations will become exasperations.  Foreign Minister Lavarov, warning that the nation of Ukraine runs the risk of sliding into civil war if elements in Kyiv aligned to the Kremlin are forcibly removed, provocatively adding that about one hundred fifty mercenaries (in other words, enemy combatants, "party to the conflict") are present in the area and disguised as members of the elite Ukrainian Falcon Unit (which may or may not be a crew of stunt pilots).

This private security firm, Greystone—a subsidiary of the company formerly known as Blackwater, issued a denial, albeit several weeks ahead of Lavarov's accusation that took place just a couple of days ago, and the firm does advertise that they were recently awarded with contracts in Russia and Ukraine for executive security services.  Come to think of it, there was no update or resolution to the news just prior to the articles of annexation that an American drone had been downed in Crimean airspace.  Meanwhile among the uniformed sending-forces, there are also phony-mysterious pledges to station more troops in the former Soviet satellite states, in addition to movements already scheduled associated with joint military exercises, kept to send a signal of some sort, and Cold War rhetoric is being exchanged (though unilaterally) among greying imminences and veterans.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

sammelw(m)ut

The European Union High Court ruled yesterday that individual and infra-state mandates for telecommunication companies to retain customer data, in anticipation of—for the eventuality of surrendering that intelligence to authorities to combat the spectre of terrorism or organised crime are illegal.  The court opined that such broad directives, previously installed after the mass-transit bombings in London and Madrid and challenged by freedom groups in Austria and Ireland, infringed disproportionately on individuals’ right to privacy and ownership, integrity of their personal information and kept the populace under the same menacing aegis of dragnet surveillance that needs no competition or shadow.

Acknowledging that such omnipresence and onus has no place within the framework of European law (the public is better protected and served in perception and reality by professional and targeted investigations and not this theatre of pre-crime) is certainly a positive development, raking in some of the expansive and virtually unchecked inkpads of human activity—however, not only governments are possessed with a collecting mania (Sammelwut).  Even if the justices of the High Court are willing to diminish the jurisdiction of the state in such matters and demand that more precise language be in place to govern the retention and release of records, the demographics of marketers and buccaneers are divergently becoming something more and more specific and impugning.  Private individuals may be at the mercy of government agencies when it comes to the disposition of their data—however, someone is ultimately accountable; with industry, on the other hand, though profits and potential customers (or victims) drive research and stockpiling, the information that business has on people—both amalgamated and detailed, is given to those businesses voluntarily.  The authorities may have no claims of custody over such information, and no longer in a position to petition the public, progress may be forthcoming, but seem better custodians than business—retailers and providers alike, which politicians are reluctant to reign in.   In response, governments that tailored individual guidelines for telecommunications companies may want to also shirk their follow-on responsibilities to precisely define what warrants scrutiny and archiving.

spanish armada or tonkin ghosts

The story of America’s other non-contiguous state is also a fascinating one and how it came to be is impacted not just by time and tide (and volcanic eruptions) or even just simple avarice (as I assumed).  Neither was Manifest Destiny a universally accepted doctrine of the expanding Republic.  It is true that the Kingdom of Hawai’i was ultimately annexed by the United States due in part by agitators who owned plantations and backed supporters in the overthrow of the royal family.  The seated US government, however, under the leadership of anti-imperialists, was exonerated of any interference, both in unseating the monarchy or encouraging the new democracy (a very short-lived republic) to make the transition to accession as an American territory.   The timing of events during the late 1800s and culminating in 1903 were the ripples broadcast of a larger stratagem for America to assert its strength as a world power.  The interest and acquisition of the Pacific island group began with the Spanish-American War, a forgotten and long-distant conflict itself but responsible for many of these geological artefacts and discontinuities.  Prior to the US Civil War, successive regimes in the US were interested in obtaining Cuba, a colony of Spain, for its farmlands and to enslave its native population—rather than importing slaves from Africa.  Spain refused to sell to America at any price and America’s own intervening civil war put a halt to ambitions of empire for several years.

 After the Civil War ended, however, the idea for conquest was renewed, enervated in part by nascent revolts in Cuba towards Spanish rule, which had been going on for years.  America saw the chance to feed the unrest, aided by the yellow-journalism, sensational and negative press by reporters Pulitzer and Hearst (whose names now seem to epitomise just the opposite quality in reporting).  The mysterious sinking of an American battleship in Havana harbour pushed the American president, William McKinley, reluctant for war and with no interest in colony building until and unless America could solve her existing domestic problems, into all-out war with Spain.  Perhaps part of the American public’s appetite for war was paradoxically just emerging itself from a horrendous and prolonged conflict and wanted to unite in one cause—though not a very just or honourable one, and perhaps a cause also picked by munitions-manufacturers.  The theatre quickly spread from the Caribbean to Spain’s colonies in the Pacific, and after ten weeks, the crippled Spanish navy demanded peace be brokered.  The Treaty of Paris awarded the US all Spanish colonies outside those in Africa—sort of a pyric victory, though, as the engagement brought waves of epidemic illnesses back to the US and introduced the country to the concept of crusading, which it tried very hard to avoid and has never been able to shake since.  Independence was eventually given to Cuba (with the lease in perpetuity of fort in Guantánamo Bay), Panama and the Philippines (all had to fight for it and were the subjects of other wars) but much of the rest of America’s overseas holdings came as a result of this little war: Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Guam are among the islands that came into US control—American Samoa sort of got caught up in the wake.  Though Spain was no longer a threat to the US and the Philippines wanted to be dependent of the US and not vassal to some other foreign power, the US sought to incorporate Hawai’i for strategic reasons, as the island was approximately midway between mainland America and its most remote holdings.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

flik-flak oder carte blanche

Apparently tinkerers at the Swiss Swatch factory rebuffed the overtures of US security personnel recently, when they refused to allow investigators access to their workshop.

The officials wanted to ensure that no explosives could be smuggled in the watch casings or that they could not be weaponised as an instrument for assassination, delivering poison.  Undoubtedly the company had nothing to hide but innocence certainly does not oblige one to cave to the whims of bullies. The factory director flatly refused, raising some ire and a threatening gesture, the anti-terror expert commenting that it might become more difficult to export this product to America.