Thursday, 31 July 2014

think different

Dangerous Minds shares a gallery of images from a 1986 catalog of Apple fashion. While I do readily admit that circa this line, I did sport several Coca-Cola branded jumpers and pull-overs, I don't recall this phenomenon at all. I do however remember having a rainbow Mackintosh sticker on my Trapper-Keeper, which I was quite proud of.

croatia week: zadar or nunc dimittis

The city of Zadar has many fine churches with equally rich treasuries but one of the more curious is a reliquary of Saint Simeon (Sveti Šimun).

The structure and its dedications are a hagiography of a saint—not to be confused with Simeon the apostle, better known by his regnal name as first pope of Peter, or the hermit who lived for thirty-seven years on top of a high pillar or among pillars of ruined temples and his admirers were convinced he flew up there and from one to another, or the slap-sick patron of puppeteers and jesters, Simeon the Fool, blinding someone to show that he could be cured—who was the individual presiding over the ritual Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Candlemas). Ancient of days and world-weary, Simeon was granted a peaceful death afterwards, as that was the saint's meaning in life. Nunc dimittis—now you are dismissed. The holy remains of Saint Simeon, tradition holds, wound up in Croatia in the year 1204 when a Venetian merchant was transporting the loot back from Constantinople and was shipwrecked here on the Dalmatian coast.
While repairing his ship, the merchant re-interred the body in a stone coffin in a graveyard for safekeeping. In the meantime, the merchant fell ill and came under the care of a some hospitable monks, whose churchyard he had covertly used as a hiding place. The monks had a prophetic dream that led them to the fresh grave and upon discovering the saint’s body and the wonders it worked, never allowed the treasure to leave. About two centuries later Elizabeth of Bosnia (Queen of Hungary and Croatia) attended mass where the relic was kept and a finger from the saint's mummified, incorruptible body.
It is hard to say why the queen was so possessed to do this capricious thing, but historically, she seemed like a real nasty character—ambitious and having her rivals' children killed, sort of a wicked step-mother figure who ruled as regent after the deaths of her well-wed husbands.
 The story goes that Elizabeth hid the finger in her dress and it immediately started to decompose with squirming maggots and all the rigours of fourteen hundred years of deadness. Elizabeth ran shrieking down the aisle of the church and had to confess what she had done. Mortified, Elizabeth commissioned the finest sarcophagus to seal in the saint's remains (with reliefs depicting his miracles and curiously her attempted theft) and a fine church of his own in Zadar. Just afterwards, Venice loss its claim to its lands in Dalmatia.

decamer

In a recent interview to an Argentine weekly newsletter, the Pope took the time to share ten of his guiding precepts for finding and fostering happiness. All are very tranquil and inspiring but I particularly like how the Pope suggests that families ought to turn off the television during mealtimes, recognising how possessions and possessiveness lead to disquiet and forgetting how to relax, stop being a brat—to paraphrase—and that, remarkably, that one does not earn friends by evangelizing and such behaviour belittles the beliefs of others.

shelf life or slant operation

As Europe and the United States pledge to ratchet-up sanctions on Russia, making the state a pariah after the tragic airline disaster, which Russia appears to bear responsibility for arming pro-Russian rebellion forces in the Ukrainian Don-Bass region—including Germany’s stoppage of armament sales to Russia, there comes along quietly the provocative and shameful revelation that the US government is currently releasing stockpiles of munitions to Israel. The article is evasive and hardly unbiased but suggests that Israel either did not ask or does not need to ask to be re-supplied, since the rounds (stored in country) were due to expire, and rather than dispose of them, sell them to Israel and then re-stock the warehouses with more missiles and bullets—all consistent with US politic and the safekeeping of its interests, according to one source in the story.
There was once a bitter little quip that Israel is the only land in the Middle East not endowed with oil—which seems salient, consider how the West hopes to punish Russia—but there are offshore natural gas fields for both Israel and Gaza. Old animosities may be compounded by a race for treasure—especially if far-eastern petroleum faces an embargo. Israel is facing an energy crunch and its own deposits were not discovered until recently and will not be ready to be exploited for several more years. Russia was negotiating a deal to develop Palestine’s resources in January of this year, after the failure of British and American oil companies to secure an agreement with the Territory’s government—although it is unclear whether Russia would be allowed to manage such a project without the express blessing of the Israeli government

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

ə

BoingBoing features a quite nice and circumspect retrospective of William Barker's Schwa or the Alien Autopsy with an interview with the visionary author. His iconic grey aliens personæ, our avatars, first appeared more than twenty years ago—including in the website's own print 'zine, and the story they told certainly enjoyed a following back then, although somewhat dismissed as fringe and conspiratorial. Find out more and remember this variant on the Have Nice Day smiley face at the link. Today, however, the dystopia of consumables-cartels, vanishing and endenturedness seems even more relevant and a fitting short-hand for the state of things.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

croatia week: the matter of hvartska

There were relics of past empires scattered all over Croatia, and not as if that rich heritage and string of influences was not something cherished and celebrated, but it was a challenge at times to see the sites without the filter of the past. The land now known as Dalmatia was a part of the Kingdom of the Illyrian’s until this part of the Balkan Peninsula became a Roman protectorate, and the people were fully romanised in language and culture—evidenced by many ruins.
With the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, its successor, the Byzantine Empire, incorporated Croatia. During the Middle Ages, Slavic people (regarded as contemporary Croats) migrated to the area, eventually displacing the romanised Illyrian population.
After a short inter- lude as an independent kingdom (the country had several though not enduring flirtations with soveignty but always quickly fell back into foreign contol), Croatia came under the influence of Italy again with the sale of the country to the thalassocracy of the Republic of Venice.
The Venetians were eager to maintain control of the coastal areas of the Adriatic with the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire to the north and east—with the exception of Dubrovnik and its holdings, which was then known as the city-state of Ragussa and rival maritime power that endured until the Napoleonic Wars.
The icon of the Lion of St. Mark is visible on many old structures, attesting to the Venetians’ presence.
As the incursions of the Ottomans grew bolder, Croatia entered into a personal union with the Empire of the Hapsburgs (Austro-Hungary) surrendering its autonomy in exchange for protection—even allowing vast areas of the country to be governed directly by the Viennese military command, as a buffer-zone in case of attack.

Until the end of WWI, Croatia remained part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before forming the Kingdom of Yugoslavia with other Balkan states during the interbellum period.  The Treaty of Rapallo ceded much of Istria and the Dalmatian islands to Italy.
The aftermath of WWII saw the creation of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia—with quite a few mementoes of this time as well.  Driving through the mountains near Motovun, we could spy some concrete beams that spelled out TITO to aircraft overhead.
While a part of the Eastern Bloc and governed by an authoritarian figure during this last phase, it was no dictatorship and differed greatly from other satillite states, significantly with the freedom of movement—something which no other residents behind the Iron Curtain enjoyed, and with a progressive industrial and diplomatic stance.  Uniting six disparate states until the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the region broke into a violent war for independence following the break-up of Yugoslav into its constituent parts, which lasted from 1991 to 1995.

Monday, 28 July 2014

croatia week: pula

Pula, the administrative anchor and biggest city of Istria since ancient times, has a very long and storied heritage. In addition to archaeological finds that date back twelve thousand years (not to mention fossilised human remains upwards of a million years), Pula was also were Jason and the Argonauts sought refuge while fleeing from the Colchians after he stole their golden fleece (whose legend probably comes from the tradition of “panning” for gold in the fast flowing rivers of Central Europe with a sheep skin as a sieve).
 The city features one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world, as well as a forum converted into the main town square, in addition to being the reluctant donor of many treasures and antiquities to the Empire of Venice—though there are on-going archeological digs with finds yet to discover—and was employed as the launching base for the dreadnoughts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I.
Lately, Pula has seen a revival as an industrial power-house as well as a tourist-attraction—though much more than a curious palimpsest of civilisations.





down in the underground

The always impressive BLDGBLOG shares a really fascinating condominium spanning the two member states of Belgium and the Netherlands, in the form of an abandoned ancient Roman limestone quarry, which was later put to use as doom’s day bunker for NATO senior leadership. From the accounts of workers, it was truly an underground maze, and I wonder if it was not intended as a sort of Minotaur’s Labyrinth to sequester at least half of those dogmatists who necessitated such a structure be built.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

croatia week: fiat panis or etymological spelunking

The unit of currency of Croatia is called the Kuna. While the word may sound a little bit like the Krona, Kroner or Crowns of some other European countries, “kuna” means marten pelt (like a mink's of weasel's coat) and is a historical bow to the barter between the Roman Empire, trading furs much in demand for other goods. The image of this creature appears on the country's coins. In the sculpture garden of the ancient village of Osor on the Isle of Cres, there is a modern bronze monument to this little animal. I figured petting it might bring good fortune, and I did in fact end up with a whole pocket full of lipa, the subdivision and meaning lime tree (with an image of a leaf), by journey's end, which proved a challenge to spend.
What we call Croatia (Kroatien) bears the endonym Hrvatska, and it is always a curious task to guess how exonyms came about (i.e., Deutschland to Germany or l'Allemagne or Njemačka). I am still not certain, but it is interesting to note how the necktie is attributed to military garb of the Croatian and the German (and French, and cognate English) word for the accessory, Krawatte, Cravate, sounds an awful lot like the native word for Croat(s), Hrvat(i).

calligram

Never failing to discover and share—and with a good dose of education and that sparks the curiosity to learn more, brilliant book illustrations, BibliOdyssey presents Le Bestiaire Fabuleux, a mid twentieth century French collaboration among artists and poets, which paired a surreal menagerie with prose—looking almost like a paint-by-number or connect-the-dots, arranged in a calligram (only the idea of a calligram is shown here, not an example from the generous gallery to be found at the link above) that's the wood-cut, as it were, of the creature. It is not just craftily placed letters to complement the painting, but actual blazoning instructions to recreate the image with a little fable to accompany it.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

croatia week: outstanding universal value or spaghetti western

We visited some of Croatia's amazing and varied natural landscapes, including the cascading and constantly changing lakes of the Plitvice national parks (Nacionalni park Plitvička jezer) whose unique character is due to the malleable tufa that dams up the rough and eternal karst foundation of the Kvarner Gulf.
This lime- stone funda- ment is reminiscent of County Connemara in Ireland, whose sweeping plains are rivulets of the jagged rock face—with little top-soil but still managing to hold fast an ecosystem that supports everything from mosses up to cows—and people, rising also to form pseudo-fjords in parts.
The pools and lakes here and waterfalls are created by sediment that transforms into basically a chalky, soft substance that is much less permanent than what lies beneath and has given rise to wonderland, which was already duly recognised as one of the world's treasures by UNESCO in 1979 as one of the first natural places on the register.
Tourists can visit the park by sticking to these wooden gangways that look like the walkways from the Ewok village on the Moon of Endor. The wildlife here includes wolves, bears, otters, owls, vultures and lynxes but most shy away from the visiting crowds and the trails close promptly at sundown. A bit further south, past the Velebit mountain range, was the nature reserve of Paklenica canyon, and we hiked the trails there as well. It was easy to conjure up any number of adventures transpiring here.
Not too far away are much more arid climes, baked by the Adriatic sun and unrelenting Bora winds (a gust characteristic of the area that barrels downhill and snowballs once it reaches the lowlands), like these desert hills of the Isle of Pag—whose moonscape made me think of Tatooine. They were filming something there, but we suspect it was a car commercial, to appeal to customers' off-road fantasies even though it's doubtful they'll ever be realised.
It turns out that these natural backdrops were indeed made famous on celluloid in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the cinematic adaptations of German adventure-writer Karl May's novels of the Wild West, whose success spurred on other franchises like the Lone Ranger and Zorro.
May came to claim his cowboy-and-Indian stories with such iconic characters as the wise Winnetou, chief of the Apaches, and Old Shatterhand, his white blood-brother and the author's vicarious alter-ego, but May never saw these exotic places for himself—though compensating well with his imagination. It seems appropriate that the wilds of Yugoslavia (at the time) could be a fitting understudy and perhaps more authentic and awe-inspiring than those locations never visited.

trader vic's

Collectors' Weekly has a fantastic article and gallery of vintage images, including odd advertising and incredible temples to the romancing of the South Seas, of the development of Tiki coutre and kitsch and its impact, resonance on Mid-Century Americana.  Please be sure to peruse the site for show-and-tell sessions and timely and timeless features on collectibles and antiques.

croatia week: founding fathers or the secret of nin

One of the many great and heretofore unknown places that we discovered and explored while a vacation was the town of Nin, close to Zadar. The most ancient part of town, which goes back three thousand years, is situated on a little islet in the bay, connected to the mainland by a bridge and surrounded by salty marshes where salt harvesting from the Adriatic carries one to this day as it had for milennia. At the head of the bridge, there is a bronze sculpture of Duke Branimir of Croatia—the figure credited with first winning independence for the Croatian state by his allegiance to the Pope, who was the authority on sovereignty back then, and converting en masse his people.
Beforehand, the lands of Dalmatia had always been either under Byzantine or Frankish rule. Another influential figure from Nin—also captured in sculpture, subsequently threatened to jeopardise that relationship with Rome. Gregorius, Bishop of Nin was constantly courting displeasure by saying mass in his native tongue, instead of Latin, so his congregation could understand and interpret the message of the sermon for themselves.
Here, as powerfully imagined by artist Ivan Meštrović, Grgur ninski looks like a Disney villian or some fire and brimstone preacher but still invites one to rub his toe for a blessing, and the statue was placed in the courtyard outside the Church of the Holy Cross (Crkva svetog Križa), the former seat of the bisphoric. Gregorius' career was obscured by Church politics and during his tenure the bishop of Nin was dissolved, which enjoys the somewhat misleading distincion of being the tinest cathedral in the world.
Gregorius and the partitioners of Nin were not punished with this diminutive gathering place for their vernacular rebellion (and since there is no longer the office of the bishop in Nin, it cannot really be called a cathedral), as it was rather built probably as a private chapel for the neighbouring ducal residence originally. Research into its design and orientation also suggest that the structure functioned as an ingenious sun-dial and calendar (with the placement of the portals along the roof and wall) to trace the sun's path throughout the day and year.

croatia week



More on what we did for our summer vacation is coming with reflections on travels in Istria and along the Dalmatian coast. Više doći.

tiger beat or the sands of time

A new social networking service hopes to encourage participants to live more in the moment—whatever that means—by pledging to rake over the coals of any status updates, posing, shouts, blurbs and friendships fostered and erase them after twenty-four hours have passed. Users, without the nagging realisation that everything one thinks, does and says was in that pill that one took yesterday and will become an indelible part of one's permanent record—whatever that means—the start-up hopes, can be engineered to interact more spontaneously in this sandbox, this hour-glass and behave more like people do in real life.

Everything is wiped-clean, except those shared moments and impressions that users choose to keep alive by a continuous volley or as either points of departure (successful experiments) re-posted on more enduring servers. I don't know really what know how vanities in danger of slipping away reflected one place relates to living in the present (one read, excusing potentially embarassing behaviour) and not dwelling in some past that haunts one's future, unless one has some really incriminating skeletons—but this venture does pose a really interesting question about what it means to buoy up a moment, a memory, an encounter. Forget nurturing an interest or belabouring a subject in any virtual forum, and just consider one's manifest, artefacts, hearth and home. It does not do just to chronicle them, however they're shared; more over, as we all know—friends, family and even a place to live cease to exist without (and no proclamation is needed, just a private thought) naming them exactly that on a daily basis. What do you think? The internet is not going co-opt kindnesses and gratitude but might make a real mess of things trying to understand how to capitalise on that intelligence.

Friday, 11 July 2014

sretan put!

 
PfRC will be taking another sabbatical soon, so stay tuned to our little travel blog for continuing adventures. Zbogom!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

aquatint, mezzotint

Nag-on-the-Lake discovered and invites us to peruse the wonderful collection of Mid-Century Modern linocuts of various tableaux and landmarks of London by artist Edward Bawden. The gallery is really amazing and it was interesting to learn what the linocut technique involves—like a woodcut but etched into the medium of flooring linoleum as relief, intaglio to produce a stamp.
Bawden certainly was not alone in experimenting with this material—the technique having been first employed by the Dresdener avant-garde collective Die Brücke and then tried by others, including Picasso and Matisse.  Linotype, as a process, on the other hand, means “line of type” as a single slug of text that spanned the whole page could be composed at once and then assembled, line by line. The invention of the linotype machine in 1884 revolutionized the newspaper business with quicker type-setting; before its introduction, no daily edition in the world offered readers more than eight pages.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

montagsdemo oder wir sind das volk

Though never claiming to be the moral successor to the Montagsdemonstrationen, those peaceful rallies that took place in the late eighties in the public square of the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, spreading to other cities, protesting the ruling party in East Germany and instrumental in making imminent the reunification, the German press is drawing parallels to a movement began this Spring in Hamburg called Vigils for Peace (Mahnwachen für den Frieden).

The fact that these assemblies, propagated to cities all over Germany, also take place on Mondays, apparently makes the organisers an easy target and fuels the disdain of journalists, which in turn forms public-opinion or ignorance thereof. The Vigils were originally called together to discuss Russian overtures in the Crimea and enlighten people to other dangerous potential parallels, but the group soon expanded its focus, given that Germany seems at times a humble understudy in foreign affairs—a second to the US and EU (a role particularly convenient when one's economic relations are jeopardised). Also they shifted their focus, because we cycle faster and faster from one crisis to another and often new developments are suffered (publicised loudly) with a pretext of distraction—attention having become the most scarce commodity. Now the discussion includes integrity in reporting, Germany's relationship with the US and above all the monetary authority of reserve banks—especially the Fed—and how they influence governments nonpareil. Though barely mentioned during the escalation of tensions in Ukraine, now that the vigilantes might want to essay the bigger-picture, they are dismissed by the media as a band of conspiracy-theorists, and labeled with the muting attributes of being right-leaning and anti-Semitic. Though tolerated and ultimately effective, I wonder how the state-controlled press regarded the Montagsdemos.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

zeugma or void-fraction

Stars and Stripes’ article reporting on the border that Turkey shares with the Levant is described with the same characteristic fright as many outlets are reserving for the situation at the US border with Mexico. Western officials are very concerned about this NATO march’s ability to secure a border designated as porous, as it has been used as a point of entry (and egress) for militants to join in arms the insurrection against the governments of Syria and Iraq. The border itself is described as a thousand kilometer expanse of rugged wilderness—with a few population centres straddling the shallow basin of the River Euphrates that marks the boundary. This area at the crossroads of several trade routes has held a pivotal position and hosted a variety of people throughout history, and one of those population centres is the ancient city of Gaziantep, which has over a million residents from all sorts of backgrounds and confessions and also hosts an outpost of the US military and a missile battery.

In antiquity, Gaziantep (Antep) was also the site at Zeugma (literally a yoke, as in a yoked ox) of the famed bridge of boats that spanned the river. Crossing here allows certain elements to enter the Mideast without detection, and according to some estimates, ten-thousand foreign volunteers have defected in this way. With an aside of humility, NATO leaders seem to be slowly recognising that sectarian strife is not a matter to be settled by Western meddling, though staunching the current of insurgents and materiel is important. That hint of humbleness becomes a bit more feigned in the next breath, with criticisms volleyed at the Turkish government for tolerating “jihadists” and generally provoking unrest in Syria. Tensions between Turkey and Syria presently stem from Turkey’s European aspirations, secular government and NATO-membership (which it once invoked against Syrian aggressions, threatening the bring the wrath of the whole organisation down on its neighbour) but the discord has older roots—significantly, Syrian rancor over the self-annexation of the Republic of Hatay (from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) coinciding with the outbreak of WWII. The former sanjak seceded from French occupied Syria, proclaimed independence and voted to accede to Turkey, because of a greater ethnic kinship to that country. That vignette is told with a similar parallel construction to another current event. The concern, which is slowly garnering more attention as the border region is surreptitiously fortified and drones are on the beat, is over the so-called “returnees,” the veterans (gazi) of these battles coming back via the same route to Europe. Regardless of success or failure in establishing a Caliphate, Western leaders fear that the violence will spread, coming home to roost. What do you think? Has NATO been too neglectful of this front and possible breach?

Monday, 7 July 2014

culture vulture

Although the destruction of the cultural hertitage of Afghanistan, like the unique Greco-Buddhist statues at Bamiyan was commissioned because they were deemed idolatrous, rather than being spared due to liquidity like museum treasures that can be pawned off to a string of private collectors, the West at that time failed to heed an important warning and bought wholesale into a contrived fable.
Such a revisionist history is taking place for a second time in just the span of a few years in Iraq, as ISIS is storming through the land. Already many places holy to the Shi'ites have been obliterated and again Iraq's curators are seeing their galleries occupied by minions awaiting orders whether the graven images ought to be smashed or offered to the highest-bidder. Either way, the loss is terrible to contemplate, but the greater objective, which was already achieved in making the West believe that Afghanistan or any selected population is monolithic and was always so, is to rewrite history and to eliminate any stray fact that does not fulfill this prophesy. No nation is completely frank about its past and history never goes without bias, but to become completely intolerant of the formative and ancient past is an open invitation for repetition.

advertising space

Via Fast Company, Take Part features the innovative work of a design firm in Slovakia that hopes of inspiring others to come up with creative ways of addressing homelessness. The architects have taken advantage of the typical East European electrified two-sided billboard—known as a hoarding to much of the rest of the world, to create a nook, a shelter for the country's vagrant population with amenities.
The design firm has gifted its basic plan to the world, certain that others could improve upon these ideas for dignified quarters and adapt them to local conditions. Urban-centres in Germany as have these suspended boxes but also on ground level, squat columns for posting bills, and it always occurred to me that such opportunities abound. Elsewhere, spikes like those designed to keep pigeons from perching have been installed in entryways to prevent people from taking up temporary residence and out of sight. The really clever—though possibly ethically-questionable, having the homeless sponsored by big businesses, like some race-car or potentially a corporate zoo—part is that the costs are calculated to pay for themselves from advertising revenue. I really like this idea and it seems to be a good way to create a real transition, a boot-strap from vagrancy. There are far worse ways to try to get a foot up.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

duress or just like a boss

Spiegel's International Desk (auf Englisch) features an interview with the one of the Fugitive’s lawyers and another former agency contractor regarding the US intelligence apparatchik's unflagging pursuit of complete, omnipotent surveillance and Germany's relationship as a junior partner. The short but insightful piece equates that drive to a form of state-sanctioned religion, having one self-same loftier aim of population-control, foiled with another much more mundane and human of having the economic upper-hand and influence over government regulation in business and for emerging technologies. Of course I rationally understood these sort of goals, especially being able to poll the mood of mergers and acquisitions or trade agreements before they were put before national assemblies or eked out to a public, with or without any input into the proposal, and adjust language and sciency-sounding reviews accordingly.

I knew that the US government and its branches were basically indentured servants, in peonage, to its corporate masters. I held on to one or two naïve beliefs, however, until hearing how the agency had enjoyed an uneasy but privileged spot in its host-nation of Germany since the conclusion of WWII, and all checks and balances and feet-dragging were summarily dismissed in the wake of 9/11, when even despite public renunciation of the aggression, Germany became an unquestioning staging-ground. Privately—at least among politicians—the grief and guilt that Germany had to bear over having allowed the 9/11 hijackers to reside in their country was something graver than the other guilt and shame that Germany already carried and had no choice in this polite world other than to acquiesce. That—for me, instantly dispelled any room for some fretful but ultimately benevolent ideology or unbridled patriotism driving America's businesses' posture and insatiable hunger for control and dominance at any cost. The public face of it, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency (nor of no other country neither), are just costly work-horses and can visit no end of humiliation and intimidation upon individuals—costly as well in terms of political capital and good-will, but that price is dwarfed by what corporations, which know no allegiance nor shame, stand to gain and tithe the government for its services. This exercise is far from one in security, and despite pretensions and campaigns to the contrary, it is solely concerned with maintaining and increasing treasure and comfort for the few.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

smarty pants

Kottke shares an addictive game that combines trivia with a familiar cartographic platform, called Smarty Pins. It's pretty fun and challenging and one is allowed to keep playing as long as one has a balance of kilometers left—when you put the marker down in the wrong spot, it deducts the difference in distance from one's round but one can always keep on playing and track one's achievements.

Friday, 4 July 2014

boat-people or sacco and vanzetti

Leadership in the Italian navy has fears that terrorists may be trying to seek anonymously into Europe by migrant boats, refugee processing centres and camps having been over-whelmed for some time by the huge numbers of people fleeing strife and poverty in Africa. Thousands are risking their lives on a very difficult and dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to a safe haven island, and then, having survived, are greeted with an uncertain reception.

While this may turn out to be a tenably horrendous act, and it is an important warning—though European governments are not exactly blinded by magnanimity when it comes to immigration—warning the press on such concerns (aside from promulgating misconceptions, which might have contributed to mass egresses all over) seems to serve little purpose other than to galvanise public-opinion on the matter. Historically, the press and politicians have always made such claims about immigrant groups, sculpted to the fears of the times—being anarchists, atheists, communists or disease-ridden. Though reporting ought to take place and it certainly a prerequisite that receiving nations be able to care for and shelter those they take in with dignity, making a humanitarian crisis look to be an open, back-door invitation for terrorism seems just the latest incarnation of stereotyping and xenophobia. Though a generation or more has elapsed since colonial rule ended—meaning colonialism and empire in all its awful forms, it was the Pieds-Noirs hot-footing it out of their former mandates and leaving many of these lands in chaos.

one percenters or singing for your supper

Although there have been recent developments in the court room that seem to favour hyper-capitalism, I suspect that litigation between the government of Argentina and a hedge-fund manager is far from over. When the South American nation's economy was down-and-out and on the verge of collapse, a band of merry angel investors bought up bonds at a few pennies on the dollar. Now that the Argentine economy is back on its feet and the bonds have matured, from being not worth the paper they were printed on to being worth billions of dollars (on paper) and the hedge-fund team is demanding payment in full. Never mind that making this payment would destroy the Argentine market all over again and the their initial predatory investment did not in anyway help the country to extract itself from the financial mess, which is ostensibly why countries expose themselves to such vultures in the first place. US judges have again ruled that the hedge-fund manager has the right to his claim—though it would be nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory. Though smug and satisfied with this impossible ruling, I think that they would like nothing more than to see the proceedings drag on and only threaten to foreclose on Argentina, since that's what banks do best.  As sad as this tale is, it is not unique.
With historically low interest rates, banks are disinclined still to lend to mere mortals when or conduct the non-swash-buckling daily work of the institutions, being that the banks themselves can afford to borrow money from central banks the world over at say one percent interest and use that loan to purchase government bonds and securities, which pays dividends back to the bank of two to three percent, effectively making the government pay banks for this bit of the banksters' entertainment. Why would the bother with anything else than this safe and secure scheme? Government and the markets conspire to keep this economic theatre going, making cosmetic adjustments here and there when the system looks in danger of collapse.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

received pronunciation

I wonder when and why 'tis, archaic but a formal elision in the English language—for it is and possibly with a grammatical mandate that one finds in other languages, like French and German, was transformed into the more familiar, yet considered acceptable only in speech and not committed to paper (though those standards are generally relaxed), contraction it's.

Attested use of 'tis extends back to the year 1450, but I suspect it was spoken for generations before being committed to paper, and it's appeared from the late 1600s on, around the same time as English writing started using an apostrophe (adopted from the French style) to stand in for the lost letters and sounds. Both flow when spoken, as do dozens of others, but given the legacy of certain well-defined instances of stock-phrases where 'tis does not ring as antique, I wonder what caused this shift from fore to aft. With the exception of won't, most English contractions are not really economising agents, usually just exchanging in print one character for another—whereas with Norse languages, at least in regional parlance, whole hackneyed phrases could be expressed with brevity, though not necessarily intelligibility outside of ones region. 'Twas is also a good question over it's—it is, it was or carelessly possessive. Like with the case of 'tis and it's, I wonder if there are any other historical examples, not frozen by song or tale, where there was a similar sort of reshuffling and an abbreviation that was rearranged. Once upon a time cannot was rendered ca'n't.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

comptoir national d'escompte

Already facing bullying by US authorities for violating (US) economic sanctions imposed against certain unfriendly nations during the past decade, France's diplomatic judgment and will is being freshly questioned by America.  It’s a tragic irony that a nation’s banks and military-industrial complex, instead of the crown and sceptre, have become the synecdoche for a government, people and posture.  Told it would be unwise to allow the sale of a new warship to Russia, the French government appears to be the victim of blackmail—by some estimations.  Given that the fines for sanctions, in the billions and far exceeding the bank’s annual profits, were already reduced in exchange for pleading guilty to charges of falsifying records and conspiracy (bad behavior certainly, but unrelated to the indictment of doing business with Iran, Cuba et. al) and the punitive scolding of denying the bank the ability to conduct dollar transactions was dropped, it seems like it can’t be anything else than extortion and backing out of a deal with Russia might bring the judgment down further.

The dollar embargo seems like a secondary punishment but the potential effects are much greater, as the French bank manages a huge basket of American pension funds, which could go into receivership if the bank is suspended, and stopping dollar transactions for any significant period of time could further destablise the Euro-Zone economy, especially in the current environment, when there is pressure on all banks to lend and encourage growth (coerced not just by the rhetoric of politicians but also with negative interest rates) and at the same time to strengthen their assets and reserves in preparation for an upcoming audit of the system’s ability to weather a crisis (stress-test).  There is also the matter of the Trans-Atlantic Trade Agreement between the EU and the States that is entering its final phase of negotiation just now.  What do you think—is it blackmail or enforcement?  Swiss banks were served also a couple months ago, admitting to allegations it tutored US citizens on tax-avoidance and obfuscation.  There seems to be a double-standard (or a higher-standard) to which some are held, in any case, as there have been no judgments for US banking institutions despite their admission of complicity and profit in connection to the price-fixing and manipulation scheme of borrowing and lending among banks—the so-called LIBOR scandal where the interest-rates on those generally short-term loans were falsified. 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

ajapa japa or I’m chanting as we speak, sweetie

I have managed to keep up quite a lot of routines that are giving myself a good turn, and hopefully those small virtues outweigh the vices—if I take time to count.  The yoga and taking time to meditate and relax, however, have become shadows of their former regiments.  It’s never comfortable (nor necessary, fortunately) trying to account for why one stopped cultivating a good habit, but introspection is something that I hope to rediscover.  Looking for a mantra to repeat in my head, I came across this website (one carefully and genuinely tended, which sadly seems kind of rare nowadays)that presents the fundamental mechanics of yogic meditation and rewarding practises that one ought to develop in a clear and accessible way.
I decided that I would stick with the classic mantra that I picked up—the Soham, understood to be a vocalization (though mantras are only to be repeated mentally) of one’s natural circulatory rhythm.  As a boustrophedon (from backwards to forwards), the words pose the question “Who am I?” and the answer “I am that I am,” but the sound and the its resonance through one’s mind and body is the important manner. Reaching the point when the silent chanting becomes sychronous with one's breath and pulse and one know longer thinks about the words and act, having become automatic and second-nature, is called by ajapa japa. I have some ways to go yet.  I also learned that there is a long established Christian tradition of meditation akin to Eastern practises (and not some latter day appropriation or concession). The choice sacred word, what a mantra means, has a distinctive Eastern ring and is often left untranslated in the Bible, as they original translators could not determine the stress and tone of the Arimaic on paper. The intentionally ambiguous Maranatha could be pronounced (in one's head, while meditating) as either maranâ thâ' or maran 'athâ' and so either as the prayer Come Lord or as the declaration The Lord has Come.