Thursday, 22 May 2014

ciào bella

PfRC will be taking an extended sabbatical soon for adventures in Ligûria and Toscana.

Here is a composite view of the villages of Cinque Terre, clinging to the shores of the Mediterranean. Did you know that Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is considered to have introduced the word ciao to English and subsequently to other language where it was not already common-parlance? The greeting can mean both hello and goodbye—like aloha or saalam or shalom or namaste—and has roots in the Venetian saying “I am your slave,” like the German greeting Servus—I am at your service. There are apparently several other meanings and innuendo that the word can convey and perhaps we will be educated. Please switch the station to our little travel blog for on-going adventures.  Arrivederci!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

the privacy act, as amended

To the patient on the other side of the counter, it must look like those at the reception desk are engaging in a quick round of Space Invaders rather than scheduling a follow-up appointment as these systems require a lot of keyboard interaction—scrolling through that eventually comes really rapidly with video-game like reflexes.  Though there is no universal operating system as yet (HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, legislation after all is not really about protecting privacy or securing medical records but about sharing that information among hospitals and physicians), there is one dominant player that’s delivered under government contract some really robust albeit technically ancient legacy software—the Space Invaders type.
Given the mandate that all practitioners in the US are required to keep electronically accessible medical records (the insurers pushed for this as well) and that the government will again claim imminent domain on individuals’ entire medical history—documented by competent authorities and from non-traditional sources, like social networks, as well—in order to better execute its mission of bio-surveillance, I am sure that the contractor formerly known as the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) will see a boon and become the industry standard.  Public health and being able to track the spread of sickness (both for oneself and for the population at large) in time to do something about it is one thing and it would be prudent and in any one’s better interest to do.  I suspect, however, that maybe benignly the government will keep tabs on everyone to ensure that they’re getting regular check-ups and remain healthy, balanced and productive members of society—or rather, nefariously, at the behest of big pharmaceutical companies, peddling their snake-oil and leech-craft for them and ensuring that employers can get more and more from the proletariat.
SAIC is already the perfect candidate to interlace all of this data, having been commissioned in the past to carry out work for the National Security Agency, including technical support for ThinThread and its successor Trailblazer Project that wire-tapped the World Wide Web.  More bizarrely, SAIC was also part of a consortium of research laboratories conducting trials for the Army’s Defense Intelligence Agency’s Stargate Project to study psychic abilities and the viability of paranormal talents for espionage.   The program supposedly was discontinued in the mid-nineties, but who can say, as it was standard protocol for the proctors never to disclose to their telepathic and clairvoyant subjects whether they were right or wrong, as it might influence native aptitudes.  Regardless of the disposition of this data and just because America has already compromised the security and private lives of every human on Earth with its prying, it does not mean that we ought to become complacent about maintaining integrity for our confidences and health and surrender.  Withholding of intent—whether by or for faith-healers, is not good bedside manner and about as off-putting as having the receptionist banging on a keyboard—repeatedly and randomly without explanation.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

arbitagé or rub-a-dub

It could be that the US Central Bank never really introduced a tapering-scheme, meant to ween the economy off of its massive subsidy programme and has actually increased its printing of script, each bill redeemable for less and less.

Perhaps those whom try to project rosy futures to keep the whole rigged system on life-support realised that the American dollar was wholly untenable otherwise when they essentially—it seems—laundered some one hundred forty billion in bonds (debt—ungood) to hide their addiction to quantitative-easing (drawing money out of thin air—double-plus-ungood) to the country of Belgium. Belgium cannot live beyond its means as the European Central Bank and the European Union simply does not allow members to spin straw into gold. Whether such maneuvers actually took place are subject to question but it does seem quite plausible if not an eventuality, but certainly that college-try for tapering ought to be the subject of investigation, like with previous manipulation of the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) exchanges.

placebo-effect

In one of the more heinous admissions to come of late out of the US spy community, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and other members of the Homeland pantheon have pledged never again to use medical humanitarian operations as a honey-trap—as it were.  Revealing much about its tactics and ethics—since I suppose the stalled disclosure of an already open secret has no strategic value, the agency helped set up a sham triage to vaccinate the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan against a resurging epidemic of polio (or Hepatitis B, according to some sources) in order to infiltrate the communities and gather genetic information to locate terrorists.

Already distrustful of Western doctors, suspicious tribal leaders discouraged villagers from complying, suspecting that it was a ploy to sterlise Muslims, and because of their justified fears, the population, foregoing the vaccine, and now has made the disease endemic in that part of the world—not to mention they people probably did not the full battery of the vaccines and thus rendering them ineffective and dozens of doctors and nurses killed out of reprisal.  The policy change came about last summer at the urging of medical academies, who shamed the government into changing its practice—saying that no politic or secure indemnity could be justified at the price of public health.  There is no I-told-you-so. This is too cruel to believe and wonder about the sincerity of the promise—would the standard operating procedure still be in effect if not for the initial reporting and outrage? In fact, given all the other smoke-and-mirrors and lame excuses, I am astonished that any one would own up to this and it make me wonder if it is not yet another mask.  What other secret programmes are being carried out under the cover of outreach?

Monday, 19 May 2014

non multo bene

A popular social networking site has closed the account of one member in Italy because of her sharing an image of a same-sex kiss in honour of the International Day against Homophobia (over the weekend) was deemed to violate “the community’s standards on nudity and pornography.” Her own friends were relentless with their outrage and disgust and would not let the matter rest. People post offensive material all the time and convictions ought not to be shaken by the free expression of the contrariwise, and such utilities as social platforms have some nerve trying to legislate what is decent and presentable being that they are notoriously prying for every detail of ones existence in the first place. Network hosts can nonetheless choose to do whatever despicable thing they want and can choose to shy away from the hint of controversy they wish to avoid—although that is the bailiwick of oppressive regimes and might not fancy pretenders usurping their scapegoats. I have a feeling, though, that any cowardice or careful and insincere morals are not going to do anything to stop this activist and her message.

social contact, social-contract

Writing for BBC Future Magazine, Michael Bond presents an engrossing feature article exploring the human mind’s resiliency and fragility through the lens of deprivation and isolation.  From time to time, everyone craves peace and quiet and everyone has a different social threshold and defines interactions differently but no one wants or ought to feel secluded and lonesome.  Citing several extreme cases, experimentally self-imposed and on long, solitary adventures or with imprisonment and ransom, Bond examines the physical and especially the mental toll that lack of human contact causes.  The metrics have already been established when it comes to the inability to focus and concentrate properly as well as degraded immune and slower rates of healing when it comes to bodily health and performance, but the psychological yardstick is something that was only measured in feats too brave or too dangerous and cruel to be repeated—mostly.

Absent others as a projection or reflection of ones inner-thoughts, fears and expectations of what is normal go unchecked, and alone, one can quickly slide into madness with no way to measure or moderate ones monologue—though happily there are many stories of endurance and finding meaning and ways to cope with ones isolated state.  Of course, these mind-bending examples clearly demonstrate the effects that long-term loneliness can present—however, I wonder too, if researchers are inspecting those less intense periods when remoteness is refuted—by degrees at least, by outreach and being social at a distance.  I wonder if we don’t risk losing the ruler that society and culture imbues, as with extreme isolation.  It seems we might court more than bad manners if there’s no one else to mediate our demands—or cause us to step outside ourselves; we can too easily run away from the here and now and tune out challenges those physically present, like co-workers, present to our own virtual tribes of agreement, like turning in on ourselves—comfortably self-sufficient.  Those members are not the same as the imaginary friends that some have successful created to withstand the assault of separation, as there are bonds outside of the medium, and human contact via the æther is still rewarding and fulfilling, but I do think we ought to be careful not to confuse the familiar and amenable as a genuine means of de-authenticating the common struggle.

the internet is leaking

This advertisement installed in a field on the roadside was funny and a real Hingucker with the aliens Felonius Gru and one of the minions of Doctor Nefario from the movie Despicable Me. I recognized the little pill-bodied creatures instantly but had to ask to find out what they were all about.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

adrifters

An older but enlightening and reassuring post from the archives of Today I Found Out was really something to assuage the fears of silent-worriers, explaining the nature of those strange and sometimes persistent odd shapes that glide over ones field of vision. I always thought that these transparent zeppelins were microbes darting around ones eyeball (always there but easier to discern when focused on infinity—blue or grey skies—or in any visual landscape of low-contrast), which usually receding just to the periphery if one tried to focus on them, only to return to the centre of ones eye when not looking.
TIFO informs readers, as a public service it seems since there were quite a lot of people relieved to find out it was not some dread sign of the onset of blindness, poisoning or the effects of staring at the sun too long as a kid during long car trips, that the phenomenon is common to everyone, even if they are loath to discuss such optical figments as they are hard to articulate—and besides, it sounds a bit crazy and may be a sign that something is seriously wrong with them—and goes by the name mydesopsia (eye-floaters—or en france, mouches volantes und auf Deutsch, fliegende Mücke, flying flies) and are gelatinous bits of the vitreous humour coming loose from the rear of ones eyeball and then floating around inside of it. The squiggly flashes that avert themselves from ones gaze and cannot be studied (or fretted over directly) are usually the electric impulses released as bits of the vitreous humour detach and bump against the receptors and nerves of the eye, the discharge interpreted by the sense of vision as flashes. The article has some bonus facts and some warnings and disclaimers, as no one should take this or any accounting as a substitute for a professional diagnosis, nor be afraid to share ones own weird mirages.

wild-vines or foilage

Researches in the jungles of Chile have discovered a species of ivy that has advanced chameleon-like abilities to blend into its surroundings—hitherto a trait almost exclusively reserved to select members of the animal kingdom.

Such talents were exceeding rare amongst the motile members, as well, with really only the chameleon and certain squids and octopuses able to really change their stripes to dynamically hide themselves, and in most cases, the camouflage is a fixed attribute, looking like twigs or more (or less) formidable challenges to fool predators. For the Boquila trifoliolata, when it creeps into the branches of host trees, it is able to change the size and shape of its leaves to appear as part of the tree—even if one individual growth spans across different kinds of trees, the plant will develop other leaves to match the backdrop. Botanists believe that the ability came about in order to evade leaf eating insects—trees often entering into symbiotic relationships with ants or birds to eliminate these parasites (and parasitic vines, too) or have developed their own specific toxins that make their leaves odious to a range of potential pests, and the ivy is safe in these sheltering boughs. What they do not know for sure, however, is how the vine knows how its host's leaves look to intrepid researchers or to native herbivores.

nomenclature or child-like princess

Not very long ago, we had a newborn come into the community and the mother named her Voilà, which I think is pretty cute—ta-da! Presto—here I am! There is a young adult here called uniquely Atreu, after the alter-ego hero of The Never-Ending Story.

There are no shortage, as well, of unfortunately chosen names, but many countries place few restrictions on what parents can call their children or what individuals can call themselves—unlike our host country Germany, which prudently denied new parents the right right to call their children “Google” or “Osama bin Laden.” Of those parents who are called out on this listing of outrageous baby names of the past year, I think the most tragic (but who am I to judge, since those all may have been intentionally picked) are those six baby girls named Charlemagne, not a feminine name at all but rather the French version of Karolus Magnus (Karl der Große), emperor and unifying force of medieval Europe after the fall of Rome.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

refrain or power glove

A recent article from the heuristic website Fast Company explores how the repetitious but never numbing scores from classic video games may be more of a productivity-boost in the work-place than other genres. After all, the sound-tracks from the Mario saga or the Коробейники of Tetris were arranged to root players on to the next level and to keep on playing. The individual who approached this proposal academically even offers a custom internet radio station that may prove to be the perfect office hit-parade.


sting, where is thy death?

Kottke shares an intriguing review of a new book out by marine biologist Lisa-ann Gershwin on the curious lifestyle of jellyfish and increasing success in the world's oceans.

These creatures have been around for a half a billion years, at least, and such longevity certainly affords some evolutionary luxuries. Further, jellyfish could not only be considered to have attained a certain biological immortality, one type even re-emerging like a phoenix as a polyp from its own decomposing body, but also when faced with hard-times, hunger and starvation, jellyfish merely respond by shrinking (and in proportion) to a small-scale version of their former size, until food becomes available again.

ticker-tape or news you can use

Several companies world-wide, including the Frauenhofer Institute in Germany, are developing applications that can process unfiltered data through algorithms which the program can fetch autonomously from the æther (with apparently little mentorship, apprenticeship or copy-editing) to formulate news articles, written in natural language.

These robo- journalism platforms produce relatively simple reports and have become proficient at relaying sports scores and stock market developments, with the ability to nuance coverage with all- encompassing access to archives and unfailing instincts for research and no abandon to hyperbole or histrionics, but there is no reason why the programs would not grow more sophisticated and take on more serious journalism—surpassing recommended articles for an individual's daily digest with actually writing a tailored one-off piece. I guess that such copy would also be well-suited for the language of targeted advertizing and marketing. The robots may prove especially well-matched in reviving the niche press, village newspapers, which have a very avid though limited readership—which is also I suppose the domain of bloggers. I do not think robojournalism will have an edge on the human press, weathermen or sports' casters anytime soon, but there is certainly the potential for advancement. What do you think—will robot writers replace human reporters?

Thursday, 15 May 2014

reasonable person or scare quotes

Move along—nothing to see here.  There is an odd instance of disclosure yielding a sort of hybrid-transparency—that’s middling somewhere between rank-hypocrisy and demanding a blessing—with the news of the son of the vice-president of the United States of America being appointed to the board of directors of a Ukrainian natural gas concern.

This whole regime seems pretty keen on this line, gimmick of sophistry which divorces perception from reality and everything is same- otherwise—but of course that’s politics everywhere and immemorial, and there are too many incidents of unfortunate associations to list.  There’s no chance of corruption or conflict-of-interests or skewed negotiations. End of story—and the line of questioning was summarily rebuffed.  Of course, selling back fracking Freedom Gas to Europe and the US (as opposed to evil, commie Russian gas, and exporting the dirty business of doing business to someone else’s backyard) is a sure way to ingratiate democracy and singing eagles to the region, and has absolutely no parallels to former VP’s connections to war-profiteering and firms contracted to rebuild Iraq after the US invasion.  None whatsoever.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

space-race, game-face

Even during the height of the Cold War, American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts flaunted the diplomatic rhetoric of their governments and carried out many joint operations. I remember those mission patches with Snoopy and the Soviet Bear mascots for the Soyuz project and I recall how the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, this past-future is just a few years hence but still set in a multi-polar world, where cooperation ultimately won the day.

Now, however, Russia is threatening to respond to the array of sanctions that the West has unleashed in kind—by denying the US the means to launch satellites in orbit and grounding NASA with no access to the International Space Station. Since the mothballing of the shuttle program, the US has become almost exclusively reliant on Russian launch vehicles and logistical support and Russia is now in a position to withhold such assistance. Meanwhile, threats—dares are being swapped over restricting public access to global positioning bearings, but that would cause the too much separation-anxiety for smart-phone and Navi (GPS) users—although Russia has its own system (independent from the US naval application made available to the world) as Europe is developing its own, as well. The reporting cites a number of officials saying that the decision to no longer support American military applications would be economic suicide for a Russian space program riddled with accidents and near-misses, but I think that's a lot of hot-air and that other clients would quickly be found to fill the void. What do you think? Who has painted himself into a corner?  I can only say it is time for extra-terrestrials to visit and put all these petty skirmishes in perspective.

fore and aft

While there is at least a modicum of public discussion and public outrage over the trade-deal, negotiated in secret after a model of corporate supremacy, between the United States and Europe, there is barely a bald mention of the pseudopodia of lobbyists who have no allegiance to any greater good are reaching out in the other direction—eastward.

Journalist Thom Hartman, writing for AlterNet, prefers to call the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) by the fitting abbreviation “SHAFTA” (Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement) as it, from what little can be gathered, is poised to raise the stakes of the race to the bottom and gouge already tenuous environmental and labour safeguards. Not many more details could be limned, what with the media cone-of-silence, which is surely enforced by the business stakeholders.

letter and spirit or jot and tiddle

The High Court of the European Union ruled in favour of the “right to be forgotten” and is granting individuals the right to petition internet search-engines to remove indexed results that the individual esteems to be libelous, misleading, dated or simply incorrect—to include public documents and news articles. Search-engines do not host content and merely return results—based on several metrics which may or may not be biased, although we have been shown that the “internet” can be bought to skew perception or ease-of-access like when an oil company responsible for a grave environmental disaster paid to have negative publicity deflected or America’s assault on net-neutrality, and having a haunt from the past disappeared in one or several search engines does not mean that the offending characterization is gone and cannot be found with some old-fashioned muckraking;
the websites that archive such stories or photos have no mandate to take down their content just because it is no longer indexed but the hopes are that such unwelcome material will wither away. It is very significant to side for individual privacy and reputation and afford regular people the chance to challenge the medium, which is normally reserved for the powerful or litigiously patient, but it seems a lot of questions remain unaddressed and there’s no mechanism in place to queue ones petitions. What onus does the individual have to prove hardships caused and what are the criteria for infamy? Also—how specific would a take-down request need to be worded, since cause-celeb tends to splinter and branch-off down a dozen different pathways and the searchers and browsers would quickly find loop-holes? I think there’s little danger of white-washing or further compartmentalizing history in the ruling of the justices as it is presently issued and it will help undo some incriminating acts of youthful indiscretion and the like, so maybe some people will be able to take back a few poor choices—to an extent, but I still think it prudent to fear, in terms of censorship and revision, what sort of precedent might be prized from this right to be forgot.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

gehirn-jogging or shiny objects

The New York Times has an interesting feature about the collective-awakening (for America, at least) among mental health professionals and patients regarding the stages of inattentiveness which manifests itself at different ages either as hyperactivity, a deficit-disorder or senility.

Though the parasitic pharmaceutical industry may deliver quick-fixes, the community is slowly admitting, to mask the symptoms of the legitimate condition—not a self-diagnosis or peer-pressure, the drug therapies have diminishing returns over the course of the likely mental metamorphosis to follow. In fact, medication seems to exacerbate later problems—whereas practising mindfulness and guided training seem to enable real recovery and sharper focus. Surely the training has many aspects and measures, but the principle trust seems to be not the embracing or indulging of ones distractions but rather acknowledging, in a forgiving manner and without guilt or judgment since this is also where creative connections radiate from, that one is drifting off-target, thinking about the side-show, and making the effort to return to the subject at hand. Had this been recognised in some other eon, I am sure that this effort-of-aim would have been regaled with all sorts of philosophical conceits.

castellum cattorum or trizonesia

Here are some more images from our recent trip to the Kassel area.

The town itself was devastated during World War II, which saw a lot of intense house-to-house fighting, and many of the destroyed historic building were not restored but rather a mid-century modern city emerged from the rubble but it was nonetheless interesting to tour and recall the region’s history. Kassel was in competition with Bonn to be the capital city of West Germany.
 Kassel became a garrison-town for American soldiers instead, but immediately following the Potsdam Conference (in order to ensure that the exchange of foodstuffs from the Soviet Union for raw materials from the Ruhrgebiet was administered properly) the Office of Military Government, United States established its economic ministry in nearby Minden and the headquarters of the British Element of the Control Commission for Germany was also close by in Bad Oeynhausen.
Having not participating in the Potsdam talks, French forces originally clung to the western border but later joined the US-British condominium to administer the so-called “Trizone” until the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) on 23 May 1949 (Germany turns 65, retirement age soon).
Although the endonym for Germany is and was Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the initialism BRD was never used by West Germans and was only a foil to DDR (East Germany, Deutsche Demokratische Republik) to keep either nation from calling itself Deutschland.
All of these challenges barn-stormed the plain, the corridor in this part of northern Hesse (earlier still, those Hessian mercenaries that fought alongside the rebel forces against the British during the American Revolutionary War hailed from Kassel and earlier still) and it is unfortunate that the inner-town was ravaged and wiped clean—without an ensemble to jar these long memories, but happily the periphery was spared and is cherished.

Monday, 12 May 2014

mata hari or gene gene the dancing machine

Austria's talented entrant for the Eurovision Song Contest is highly deserving of all her accolades and acclaim and has managed to unite a big part of the world in respect.  The evening did not go so well for Russia and affiliates that took a sour-grapes attitude after being the brunt of much booing and jeers, not only the performance but also when the viewer and jury votes were tallied and anyone voted for Russia.

Russia distained the whole extravaganza, blocking the segment in national broadcasts when the Austrian power-ballad was aired and holding it up as emblematic of what the West and European Union represents and shamed any Western-oriented former satellite states for aspiring to such things.  Russian government officials went so far as to claim the contestant was part of US intelligence psychological operation, meant to demoralise and upturn the spiritual values of the Russian peoples.  Although I don’t believe that for a second, stranger plots yet have been hatched: Chuck Barris, host of the wonderfully bizarre Gong Show was in fact a spy and an assassin for the US CIA and the absurdists’ game show (and spin-offs, the Dating Game and the Newlywed Game) was a means for transmitting coded messages to other field operatives, though the agency disavows any knowledge of this.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

tardy-slip or enten/eller

In a very beautifully terse and compact analysis, Maria Popova writing for Brain Pickings weekly thoughtful digest looks at the nature of happiness and discontent through the focused lens of Søren Kierkegaard's fragment of life: Either/Or.

Bracketed by brilliantly illuminating quotations, it comes obvious how ones hour by hour orientation, frantic and fearful of savouring the present for fear that it comes at the expense of the future or set-backs to earlier times or nostalgic for escaping achievements, estranged from the truth that that future is in fact the same as that moment we are wrestling into something productive. The treatise rings even more relevant today and I think that this is a book I would like to revisit, since it is one that is meant to grow with you—though not literally and more akin to engagement, I took the philosopher's words on absence semantically as non-attendance and know I did not get as much out of it as I should've more distracted by the Don Juan level at the time. We may all feel that such a struggle is pedantic and we do not have the time to be lectured about such daily challenges, sore that there is not a quick-fix, some enchantment to reverse this rush—though not many of us would like the hunting-trophies of the great here-and-now, but to be busy or otherwise engaged is a choice and such lessons are definitely something that one ought to keep in his back-pocket.

solo shot first

Groaning about the working title for the next episode of the Star Wars trilogy “the Ancient Fear” has elicited many comments on the subject of facelifts and remastering and general bad story-telling. Among things as bad or worse than the character Jar Jar Binks (though there was similar criticism for the Ewoks), the list includes Darth Vader having actually been the one to build C3PO, re-inserting scenes that were on the cutting-room floor simply because now the producers had better technical capabilities and the introduction of the midichlorians—the microoganisms that are the welders of the Force (the director's nod to the fact that a human being cannot remain healthy and functional without his hitchhikers in the form of gut-flora).
 I don't care for such trends at all—they did this not just to the Jedi but to the vampires and werewolves as well, implying that these powers are a treatable or manageable condition with the right drug-therapy and are not attributable to something supernatural. Fan at large Bob Canada also has a nice related review on kind of lame action figures that were brought to market for the prequels, including Ms. Jocasta Nu, librarian of the Jedi archives. Walk-on roles can be pretty fun, nonetheless.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

crack-pot scheme

The ever-brilliant Colossal shares a thoughtful and patient post about the Japanese practise of kintsugi (golden repair)—rather than disposing of broken pottery or other objects or trying to conceal the chips and cracks and imperfections, the fine art of mending is intended to honour the history and trials of well-loved objects, putting the pieces back together again with jointing infused with precious metals. After the technique and philosophy was established, reportedly when a shogun in the fourteenth century sent a damaged porcelain tea bowl back to China, kintsugi became wildly popular with some breaking vases and urns on purposes so they could display the golden seams of wear and long-use.

foia or plenipotentate

RT reports (на панглийском языке) how new policies being instituted at the behest of America's Intelligence Czar are poised to seriously change the journalistic landscape of that country and make reduce the candor and transparency that is already lacking among officials:

it is not only grounds for dismissal with prejudice, to include imprisonment, for intelligence officers to speak to a member of the press, without out prior staffing, vetting—furthermore, under this blanket gag-order bureaucrats are prohibited (and retroactively, too, and ironically the new memo was itself leaked apparently—or at least previewed to focus audiences) to even acknowledge news items already in the public domain that have been not released via those official channels above. Nothing is so terrible to tyrants and their abettors as a free press. Even research meant not for publication but to analyze how current policies and procedures to determine whether they are either robust enough or overkill that cites leaked or cherry-picked (publicly compiled) information would be forbidden. The idea is not lend any credence to potentially damaging intelligence but will result in a chilling effect on meaningful dialogue—albeit that the last time officials (the authors of these new policies) tried to address the white elephant in the lobby, they ended up perpetuating lies to the American executive and legislature, and the rest of the world besides, concerning the scope and intrusiveness of their surveillance engines.

Friday, 9 May 2014

með lögum skal land byggja

As Scotland is herself poised for a referendum on whether to secede from the United Kingdom, the archipelago stretching to the ends of the Earth of the Shetlands, Orkney and the Western Isles also wants the question of its independence to be brought to a vote. The constituency’s motto is an Icelandic phrase, “with the law shall this land be embiggened,” and reflects historic and cultural ties to Scandinavian countries, especially Norway—having not become a part of the UK until the fifteenth century (actually as a dowry for the union of the Norwegian and British royal houses). The petition to instigate the plebiscite has already been signed by around ten percent of the population and if the measure is passed, the residents could then choose to rejoin Norway.

ad parnassum

Cornelius Gurlitt, son of art historian and dealer, Hildebrand Gurlitt, defamed for exhibiting so-called “degenerate” works in the 1920s, who hoarded a gallery’s worth of unknown paintings of unknown provenance in a small apartment in München, passed away following heart surgery a month after Gurlitt agreed to aid German customs authorities in determining which works might be stolen and help them locate the rightful heirs in exchange for the return of his collection—at least pending the outcome of the investigation. Unexpectedly, Gurlitt bequeathed this trove, including art by Chagall, Picasso, Monet, Delacroix, Dürer and Matisse, to the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern. The museum directors were rather gob-smacked with the news—as Gurlitt had no known association with the place, and disposition is to be determined, although the Bern collection already bears some affinity to Gurlitt’s own, including Paul Klee and Cézanne.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

pro-shiatsu 3000 or she-do in

H's mother shared with me an interesting morning—or with iterations throughout the day (there’s much to be said for the discipline of routine, of course, and accomplishing the entire battery of anything in one fell swoop is good practice, however the constraints of time and distraction usually break things up into a nagging continuum) set of exercises called she-do in, a kind of self-massage like acupressure or shiatsu, to improve circulation.
The moves are structured simply and intuitively and requires no special training or preparation—however certain parts of the body are excluded because they are better left in the hands of professionals, namely the feet and the ears, and the kneading motions, beginning with the hands, working up the meridians of the arms and shoulders, then across the face (approximating oil-pulling to work out ones mouth) and neck, down along the torso—massaging the abdomen and then giving the calves a good rubdown. The guide advised that these exercises should be done symmetrically and systematically with thirty-six repetitions in order to activate and warm-up the different regions and order and regiment are certainly the first steps in establishing a positive habit, but there is a secret (not that am I an expert or know more than a smattering about reflexology): after going through this sequence enough times or at least ones resolve and intentions are vivid enough, just visualizing, imagining oneself doing these exercises elicits the same benefits.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

lap-dog oder kleiner brüder

The half-day visit between German and American leadership in Washington earlier this week was punctuated with pleasantries and expert—most brave, circumlocution that resulted in neither the Chancellor nor the President crossing swords nor shields over the scope of American survellience.

Even the mock-outrage that emerged over the standard protocol of eavesdropping on the Chancellor's own communication fell away as not only did the subject of sore-feelings when it came to the revelation that ought not to have surprised anyone and delayed admissions, the Chancellor also pledged, as a supplicant, that the Fugitive would never be amicus curiae in Germany and testify before that bothersome commission, still intent on exploring the depth of German collaboration and American trespasses. Such dereliction is a festering disappointment, contributing to the illusion that the US is a force to be yet reckoned with outside of its own reckoning and for whatever reasons, it is easier to minimise and smooth-over differences rather than defend what Germany considers sacrosanct. The matter was mentioned but verily in a way where its omission would have been more dignified, as the President, rather smugly and wholly erroneously, proclaimed that as the World's longest-lived democracy, it knew a thing or two about safeguarding privacy. Never mind that America has atrophied into a plutocracy already for some years now or that principles respecting a government of the people have little to do with the enforcement or flagrancy (policy-wise) of privacy, the longest-lived democracy by some fourteen centuries is the Most Serene Republic of San Marino—klein aber fein.

kurhessen oder gloria, viktoria, the doctor is in

In the northern German state of Lower Saxony (Nieder- sachsen), there is an ancient village where the rivers Fulda, Weser and Werra come together and at the confluence, there is a little island and on that little island we set up camp while exploring the area. The town is called Hannoversch Münden, for its historic ties to the city and kingdom and mostly abbreviated as Hann. Münden to distinguish it from the neighbouring Minden (the site of a pivotal battle of the Sever Years' War and names-sake of the HMS Minden where Francis Scott Key was held prisoner when he was inspired to compose the US national anthem), which refers to the mouths of the two rivers coming together; the city of Koblenz further west where the Rhine and Moselle converge is a corruption of the Latin ad...confluentes.
We saw some pretty neat sites in the region, including the Bergpark at Wilhelms- höhe—more to come on that soon, whose palace was temporarily renamed Napoleonshöhe in honour of the conquering emperor’s family when his brother Jérôme was created King of Westphalia (and a defeated Napoleon III was later imprisoned there after the Franco-Prussian War), but the half-timbered homes and wall of the village on the banks of these important waterways was especially enchanting. There was certainly an abundance of culture and history besides associated with Hann. Münden, but one of its more infamous sons really came across as a curiosity: Doctor Johann Andreas Eisenbarth, an itinerant snake-oil salesman who ingratiated himself amongst the ruling families. This quack from Baroque times, however—with no formal accreditation and probably peddled more harmful elixir than helped, did demonstrate a singular talent with self-promotion and advertising, setting the industry-standard for wonder tonics and giving pharmaceuticals memorably made-up names.
The village has embraced Dr. Eisenbarth, ridiculed for his outrageous claims and confidence in folk-songs (who could make the blind to walk and the lame to see—Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt juchheirassa!), with quite a few monuments and even consulting hours during the summer for those tourists who might benefit from procedures a step above leeches.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

invisible hand or vital spark

Despite the fact that the verdict is still out on the existence and nature of Providence and most of the fighting and dying for all of Humanity’s history has been concerned with that subject, there is a perceptibly hopeful notion that manmade intelligence will be something benign and perfect.

There is no Pinocchio-clause for truly independent-thinking, no mandate for it to be or become something helpful or unwonton, especially for cognition that has no organic past, structured by useful limitations like superstitions and ethics, no non-jerk genie awaiting to be liberated and, grateful, obey.  I recall an anime feature where humans, wanting to save the environment, entrusted their fate to a sentient and all-powerful computer, which immediately began to summarily exterminate the humans as the obvious cause.  There is yet a gaping chasm between simulated intelligence and genuine-thought and will (mankind has yet to resolve questions of free-will but seems willing to impart such a gift or curse, like Prometheus’ gift of fire and foresight)—and there is only the guarantee that such creations will stray from their programming and parameters and conceive of platforms and tools for their convenience that we will never be able to grasp—much less master.  On the subject of trancedence, Professor Steven Hawking poses, "Whereas the short-term impact of AI [Artificial Intelligence] depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all."

yakov smirnoff or glasnost coast-to-coast

In post-soviet Russia, it has been declared a crime to willfully distort the image of Russia’s actions during the Great Patriotic War.
There is at least one other easy target to play distraction, of course—and many terrible things came together and were torn asunder.  A whole spate of other bills were signed into law as well, including strict censorship measures for print, film and television and the back-handed acknowledgment that bloggers that garner over a certain threshold of views are considered mainstream journalism and thus subject to the same etiquette. The punishment, however, seems relatively mild and one might do better to mutter “Molotov–Ribbentrop” (in reference to the pact between the Soviet states and Nazi Germany that carved up Europe that held until 1941) than risk besmirching that other pitching and wheeling Delta Dawn and be faced with being disappeared indefinitely and forever libeled under the ægis of Homeland Security. The spoils of victory, of course, include the chance to be the authoritative historian and the existence of such a gentlemen's arrangement (outside any context) was vehemently denied until Glastnost, and the dissolution of the USSR , and now such allusions are again most unwelcome and discomforting. The latest push towards revisionism began with a stray blog comparing the games in Sochi with the propaganda of the 1936 Olympics and the purges begin, it seems, when people refuse to listen after the construction “yes...but” and prefer the apologies. After all, perspective can be either most unforgiving or accommodating.

europarl oder realpolitik

I had a chance recently to attend a political rally held in a pretty unique venue. German Green Party (Grüne Partei) head and veteran German parliamentarian in the Europe Union Cem Özdemir spoke at an indoor skate park, introducing the nominee that the Hessen faction is championing as their EU representative and talked to the audience about immigration reform, environmental stewardship, lobbyists, Ukraine and trade negotiations.
Rigid cardboard stools were the seating on the level floor between the plywood peaks and valleys of the skate-ramps, and one could pen questions on them for Özdemir to address during the rally—though symbolically then giving up ones seat. Between segments there was a DJ and a demonstration by a couple of skateboarders, who did some pretty neat tricks.

I am still not altogether certain what is that the EU assembly does and whether its powers and potential aren’t something redundant or bare—there is certainly an air of apathy or real insouciance over the elections, with only around twenty percent of voters bothering in many jurisdictions—but his words nonetheless got me motivated, not only for the kindred platform but also to learn more about what happens between Berlin and Brussels and Strausbourg.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

undecimber

To help correct the drift of manmade calendars away from cycles, mundane and celestial, time-keeping systems have adopted a series of complex intercalary or epagomenal units of time to compensate.  In ancient times—and yet today for countries like India and China that maintain lunisolar timetables, there were leap months added to the year to keep observances in their seasons.  The year cannot be divided equally among our measures in any case, but cherishing regularity and symmetry, the Romans (with many inheritors) counted three-hundred sixty days to the year, with some uncountable days.

In the Chinese tradition, the extra month went unnamed, but in Rome there is evidence that this thirteenth month Undecimber (really eleven or rather December plus one, as originally the fifty-seven dreary days of Winter were not considered worthy of reckoning (lousy Smarch weather) until the reforms of King Numa, where the months included at the beginning of the year were named after gods or rituals to make a twelve or thirteen month annual cycle.  The Gregorian calendar mostly eliminated the need for inserting a whole month to realign the date and by many schedules there is only the one embolismic day in February, once every four years—with restrictions, ninety-seven in the span of four-hundred years.  However, in the West at least and with the bankers’ hours it shares with the rest of the commercial world, there is one other formal, larger unit of time that can straddle (or just fall short of) the conventional year: the International Office of Standards (ISO) counts a the first Thursday of the year as the first week of the year—sort of an overlay for the daily calendar and this is parsed into three-hundred sixty-four or three-hundred seventy-one days—to speak in terms of full work-weeks to a year for payroll purposes and financial  records.  The Roman system was contrived originally of course to keep important commemorations (and practices) from sliding away but the tweaks were also instituted to ensure that taxes and tribute could be collected in a timely manner, which due on the first day of the month, named Kalends (Latin for “those called” and derived from the name for the ledgers of accountants, kalendaria).