Sunday, 31 August 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: oh weal, oh woe or sacer esto

 The matter of wealth disparity was the gravest threat to a Rome who had managed to quell all external threats, but the need for reform went virtually unnoticed by the Senate, who were each preoccupied with enlarging their estate own for fear that their colleague across the aisle might be able to eventually absorb the others holdings.

After another casting off of traditional laws regarding the sacrosanctity of the person of the tribune (the office made the holder untouchable—sacer esto, let him be accursed, for interfering with the business of the State) during the perennial gridlock over social legislation, the dissenting party, vetoing ever law brought before him, was merely instead removed by an angry mob loyal to the status quo for the sake of political expediency, rather than observing checks and balances that had been in place for centuries, patient but now having become too trying.  Laws were codified that made ostentation and extravagant displays of wealth a crime as well as new restrictions on how much land one man was allowed to accumulate.
There were ways, however, to skirt these new regulations with shifting fashion and the limitless expanses of the frontier colonies. These problems did not pass unrecognised by all, though, with many moralising figures arising in politics, like Cato the Elder, who warned of this new decadence—and even in the far-away kingdom of Pergamon in Asia-Minor. Nominally under the rule of first the Persians, then the Greeks and now the Romans, the last in a dynasty of philosopher-kings, without an heir of his own, decided to bequeath the lands and wealth of Pergamon to the people of Rome, in order to avoid further civil-strife there. The Senate interrupted the king's last testament differently and were not about to throw open the doors of the treasury (for fear of run-away inflation for price- and power-parity) to the rabble. This under-appreciated magnanimous act did not sit well with the people of Pergamon either.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: the late republican period or overseas contingency operations

When last we left our seemingly indefatigable and inexhaustible Romans, they were engaged in a war with Carthage under Hannibal's leadership that spanned a generation and spilled into grandsons as well. The careful and prudent strategy of that Fabius had first instituted kept the armies shadowing each other with a sort of sense of roving reciprocity and balance—though Hannibal, having sworn to ever be an enemy of Rome would never give up. With the nemesis threatening to cut off supply-lines at any moment and with the once apparently unlimited manpower for the legions dwindling, for the first time, the Romans began courting mercenaries to supplement its regular forces, through both foreign alliances in kingdoms neighbouring Carthage and actively recruiting fighters disillusioned with the Carthaginians for not being timely with their payments or progress on Rome. The second break with tradition was in the Senate, with a paucity of options, electing to put the legions under the control of one young and charismatic general, called Scipio Africanus, who rejected the cautious former rules of engagement and attacked Hannibal directly. These exceptions seem minor—and even positive shifts for the Republic's fortune as Carthage met a decisive defeat at the Battle of Zama in present-day Tunisia, giving Rome total control of the Western Mediterranean and allowed for expansion—though without a satisfactory explanation—eastward, beyond the Adriatic. Old rivalries and suddenly finding oneself without an enemy to fight notwithstanding, Rome had always respected Greece as its elder, the preeminent naval power that ruled the Orient and had no designs on the Occident. Whatever the reason—possibly a break unspoken with the convention of only fighting a just war even though that standard had been stretched greatly on several occasions in the past, Rome baited a scuffles enough to declare war on Macedon, the kingdom portrayed as a direct threat to Greece's liberty and security. Once the regional power had been subdued and eviscerated, as it had done with Carthage, Rome declared Greece a sovereign mandate, finally free from the spectre of foreign rule (Macedon) and pledged to protect these lands from invaders. Like the Carthaginians, the Greeks did not feel abundantly free, what with Roman patrols and incursions to break-up any possible unsanctioned allegiances or trade deals.  Formal declaration of Greece, Carthage and the Iberian peninsula as Roman provinces did not happen until many years later, after the destruction of several of the great cities of antiquity in order to staunch any future thought of rebellion. This offensive was not about preservation—though all empires make such forays and create enemies if one is not conveniently available—and I think that compromise came all too easily and quickly for Rome after cosmopolitan success.
There likely never was a golden age of equality in the young Republic, but the ideals it was founded on erode at an avalanche's pace with the infusion of outrageous wealth that's too lightly concentrated. Spoils came of these conquests in the form of treasure, land and slave-labour, which although always a part of the Roman economy, was now supplanting the Plebeian class' chance to earn a livelihood. Large estate-holders were the beneficiaries of the years of war and accrued ever greater wealth, as the squadrons and companies they provisioned returned their plunder to their patrons. Before slaves were brought in from conquered lands—more than Rome had the ability to employee meaningfully—Plebeians without means could at least to expect to eke-out a modest and unglamourous living by tilling the fields of the great plantations. Now, however, their services became redundant and more and more families came into crushing debt and those that did own small parcels of their own were forced to sell to a few rich families. Another break with tradition followed in order to find a solution to this resulting vagrancy and general loitering that took hold of the underclass, which was probably responsible for the collapse of the republican government and any pretensions of nobility and democracy: the relaxing of the standards for legionnaires. Since the raising of Rome's first militia, there was the requirement that a soldier must be able to equip himself. Considering the new economic realities, however, only a handful of the sons of the wealthy landowners could serve, so the prerequisite to outfit oneself was dropped altogether. There was no stipend, per se, for service as patrons—landowners who now were surfeited with cheap-labour, had in the past acted as paymasters and addressed pensions and survivor-benefits, etc. Now earning anything for one's tour was contingent on what war trophies each soldier could secure for his commander. This system caused matters to escalate rather quickly on campaigns, not complimenting Rome's image as a righteous overlord nor benefiting unit-cohesion, and eventual led to revolt and civil-war on the domestic front.

stranger in paradise

I visited the city museum and was treated to a very interesting guided-tour of a special exhibit on the birds of paradise of New Guinea, their environs and the cult of reverence which native humans and colonialists formed around these spectacular birds—nearly as elaborate as the mating-rituals that the males perform to court females. Immature males incidentally do not develop their fancy and impossibly impractical plumage until they reach about five years of age and often hang out in the audience of females to learn the dance moves and how to be suave and sometimes get in on the action by proximity and having the drabber colours of the females. Many of the taxidermic exemplars came from the collection of Austrian orientalist and mountaineer Heinrich Harrer’s (whose autobiography Seven Years in Tibet was adapted for film) expeditions to New Guinea, a former German colony, which were undertaken as a mission of goodwill after the war to reintroduce Europe to these exotic lands.
The exhibit also featured a lot of footage from David Attenborough’s documentary on natural curiosities and the birds’ dances of passion—which includes a lot of housekeeping and pruning to make sure there’s no distraction on stage for the birds’ performance. The worshipful behaviour of humans towards the birds of paradise is also something pretty extravagant—the plumage decorating native headdresses and the fashion-plates of nineteenth-century Europe, sadly endangering the more flamboyant breeds along with encroachment of their habitat, usually restricted to specific climes. Aside from feathers in hats, another totem of the animal existed in pelt-form and was an avian vehicle of wealth and dowry. These skins were the entire bodies of the bird preserved, except for the feet—dispatched with as unaesthetic, and Western explorers and settlers believed for several centuries (until the Enlightenment) that the skies above New Guinea was home to purely celestial beings—writing embellished treatises on how the heavenly birds lived off of oxygen and dew and were even configured to fly in tandem to form a flying nest with their bodies. Before Charles Darwin described his finches of the Galápagos, biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, studying these birds of paradise and noticing specialisation, conceived of natural selection—independently, inspiring Darwin to publish his works. I wonder if such conclusions—all things considered, would be intuitive or take a special genius to recognise.
The case of these birds especially with their extreme plumage and instinctual vanity is special take on survival of the fittest—as they are not the most agile or robust creatures of the forest and sport ornamental features that seem more of a liability (like huge antlers that are a heavy burden to carry and could get hooked on something) than a natural advantage, but such decorations and displays are what the lady birds like, maybe because the males have managed to survive despite these handicaps.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: stratagem or cunctator

Rome won its first fight against Carthage, but just barely—in the aftermath, turning to more internal affairs and ignoring its rival for control of the Mediterranean. An uneasy peace was brokered with terms that left Carthage fuming—a dishonour to the competing power and especially to a certain Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca (Thunderbolt) who swore to his father to never be a friend to these interlopers and fuming after Hamilcar perished during a campaign and left his city in the hands of his acquiescing brother-in-law Hasdrubal. In time, as vengeance has no vice in patience, Hasdrubal was assassinated and Hannibal was invested as the leader of Carthage's armies. Carthage took its stand on the Iberian peninsula, in the main to protect its untapped reservoirs of silver—which afterwards, Rome exploited, too. Though there is a lot of ground to cover in between with several important detours, it seems rather ironic that latter-day nations who saw their own treasure plundered became the champions and true-believers of an expansionist-policy and persecuted with prejudice their gold-fever in the New World. Realising early on how to bait the Romans, Hannibal advanced from Spain into Roman territory-proper, traveling through Gaul and taking a direct-route—with a compliment of seventy-six elephants—over the Swiss Alps and an even harder slog over the marshlands, they drew the battle to them and summarily defeated the legions, time after time. Horrified by their series of defeats and near-misses, the constituent of Rome elected a dictator to handle it all, whom was capable of seeing soberly all of Rome's weaknesses and vanities.
Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrocusus was appointed dictator to manage the advance. Seeing, however, Hannibal's tactics and luring Romans into irresistible fights, the dictator adopted a policy of avoiding direct confrontation. Though not lauded by his own government, Fabius was appreciated by Hannibal for understanding his strategy and left armies standing, disengaged, in order to not be tempted into more losses. Hannibal appreciated Fabius' strategies, unpopular in Rome by any measure, and to undermine this general, dictated that his regular countryside raids should spare specifically those estates of the wealthy patrician Fabian family. After a ruse that saw the Carthaginian army through a trap (the Romans had their forces cornered in a valley-pass but Hannibal orchestrated a clever distraction of cattle bearing torches that lured away the forces guarding the exit). For this failure and in general operating against the grain of Roman values (plus, meanwhile, some of Rome's trusted allies defected, hoping to back the right horse), Fabius—this vested dictator—was called into question by introducing a more adventurous foil, who essentially rendered ineffectual the call and duty of the post of appointed-dictator ever afterward, checked by the power and confidence of another co-ruler. To the victor goes the future but not necessarily the history. Fabius was given the cognomen cunctator—the delayer, but his practise of non-engagement later became known as the Fabian Strategy, a battle of attrition and more importantly, being non-reactive. Rome and its legacy entire dodged another defeat, but this time through restraint and countering strategy. The period without major losses or demoralising defeats allowed Rome to re-group, and Sicily, where Hannibal's father met his demise—abandoned by the Carthaginian nobility who waged their wars with mercenary forces rather than a draft of its citizenry according to their means, eventually went into Roman receivership. The lone hold-out was the Greek city of Syracuse, defended in part by the genius of resident mad scientist Archimedes, who contrived all manner of war-machines, catapults and even a death-ray to fend off invaders. Possibly emboldened by victory on one front, not quite concomitant with the grave failure, Roman forces were resolved to confront Hannibal's armies at Cannae, a large supply depot and commissariat on the heel of the boot of Italy, on the Apulian plains. Command alternating daily between two generals (so one family would take the blame for eternity, it seems) for bureaucratic reason, a behemoth Roman army was routed. Despite losing in two decisive battles, Rome won the war, with Hannibal's discretion not to attack the capitol and to not expend all his battlefield capital in one fell stroke.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

who's who oder them

Not only does Austria get to host the EuroVision Song Contest next summer, the Interalpen Hotel, the venue of the secretive summit already in 1988, near the western Tyrolean village of Telfs will again accommodate the Bilderberg Conference.

Shielded from media coverage and the raw feelings of constituents, this steering-committee—according to many—are the deciding transatlantic oligarchy of bankers, politicians and military commanders that dream-up the agenda as it will be presented for the coming year—with matters and outcomes already settled. Future debate and pitches are only done for show, it is argued. Whether or not this is the case—and I am not sure if its more shameful for the bad marks of poor performance or for the conspiratorial airs—there have always been such gatherings and influence is never non grata. What is more bothersome, in my opinion—unless of course democracy and dialogue is really only shadow-boxing—is that the culture coming together is strictly uniform and meant to promote Anglo-Saxon values (among its applicants and supplicants) on tour on the Continent.

whose sore task does not divide the sunday from the week

Granting an interview with the Düsseldorf-based Rheinische Post, German Labour Minister elaborated on her goal to put boundaries and balance—work/life—into a legal framework, as a so-called anti-stress law. Citing numerous sources and many self-reported incidents, there has been a nearly exponential jump in sick-days due to mental exhaustion that parallels advances in technology that make many available at all times.  
German productivity and work ethic is high because of the downtime and division traditionally afforded to them—and most healthily regard work as a necessary-evil, regardless of the passion that they might have for what they do and those they help. In any case, pressure from a demanding supervisor is unlikely to visit those truly happy and driven about their professions. I know of very few trying bosses and have rarely heard of employees being arrayed with questions while on holiday, but I do suppose a few traumatic cases justify that some line be drawn. Even if there is not a surplus of terrorised workers, mental health is grounded in perception and anticipation and just the worry—real or imagined—of being disturbed can have the same effect as the unwelcome task borne on the æther. What do you think? Can you relate to this sort of pressure and torment—or does it seem something alien and a punishment that’s self-inflicted by ambition and the blurred borders we make ourselves? I’ve not had much in the way of true homework for a long time, but we are all perfectly willing to continue staring at the same rectangles in our free time and answer to any shouts and dings at any hour.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

pentimenti or regrets-only

A canvas is often a creative palimpsest and artists, both the aspiring and the renowned, had changes of heart for the mood and message of their work. A correction and substitution that can still be discerned, either as ghostly after-images, something liminal to the naked-eye or revealed accidentally through restoration efforts or purposefully through study—dissection, scanning and x-raying goes by the term pentimento—Italian for something the artist repents over. Mental Floss features a nice gallery of paintings that embody this phenomena with stories behind the changes, minor and major.

Monday, 25 August 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: gonzo & camille

Before entering into battle—or committing to any course of action for that matter, the Romans had many rituals that required strict observance. As military maneuvers especially were by and of the polity any breech of custom and reverence was an affront against one's neighbours and directly threatened public security and not just one's survival on the battle-field or the success or failure of any given mission. There are several war stories related about armies on the the march having to make a u-turn or at least pause over the auspices not being properly consulted. The actual ritual is shrouded in mystery, although the Romans were against exclusive cults in the main—including those up-start Christians, as they represented a threat to the State and public order, but seemed to be arm-wrestling the gods to secure a blessing. There are quite a few occasions when otherwise competent, successful and loyalty-inspiring generals were turned public-enemy for transgressing the divination-process, being distracted and tempted by targets of opportunity before the auspices were read and marching could resume.

Another grave transgression took place during the first engagement with Carthage, known as the Punic War (Punic being the Roman exonym for the Phoenicians who founded the north African naval and commercial power). Fearless about taking risky ventures outside of their element, Rome resolved to learn the art of seafaring to counter Carthage's strength and dominance. Such abandon was almost unheard of, but Rome, relying on perhaps the apocryphal tale of Athens countering Sparta in the same manner, was willing to take that risk. Although the first iteration of the wars general proclaim Rome the victor—only affording the chance to address attacks and revolts on other fronts, and more pain was to come, Rome became a tested and certified naval power. This prosperity came about by chance and mostly due to a spectacular failure in their first showing. In order to save time when it came to consulting the oracles, the sacred chickens were carried on board as the flagships made their way across the Mediterranean. The sacred chickens were to be consulted before advancing into enemy-waters (though Carthage had helped Rome over-throw the Greeks just a few years before but now constituted a threat to their trade-routes) and the ritual began—it is imaging this scene that makes me think of Gonzo and his harem of hens. If the chickens ate the feed they were tossed, then it was a sure sign of the gods' support for battle, however if they did not (and I find it rather hard to believe that chickens would not peck at something even if not hungry) then it was a sign to refrain. Having no time for such superstitions, the admiral proceeded to dump the coop overboard, proclaiming that if the sacred chickens were not hungry, maybe they were thirsty instead. That first encounter did not end well for the Romans, but Carthage dismissed Rome's prowess in subsequent engagements and grew over-confident in their own abilities, to their distinct disadvantage.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

dig dug

Spotted on the ever-excellent BLDGBlog, here is beautifully crafted nineteenth century German boardgame from the collections of the British Museum called Der Bergbau. This precursor to Minecraft (which also does not have rules, per se) looks like a version of 'Chutes and Ladders' but there are unfortunately no instructions on how to play.

it happened on the way to the forum: metropolitan or pyrrhic victory

As Rome was developing militarily and diplomatically, securing alliances and growth by both strife and agreeable terms of surrender—extending much privilege to tribes that are willing to give up their sovereignty without a fight such as citizenship, protection and a retention of a good degree of autonomy, whereas resistance was inevitably overcome and all sorts of unpleasant punishments were meted out, including enslavement and displacement of the tribe with Roman settlers. Rome, by 304 BC with its victory over Samnium coalition, was in control of most of the Roman peninsula with the exception of the extreme south and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia and Corsica, which were known as Magna Græcia.

Long ago, this area was settled by Greek colonists, however, these outposts grew into fiercely independent city-states, having no business with metropolitan (mother-city) Greece, nor Greece (never really a united empire with petty skirmishes among its own capitals) with them—concerned more with maintenance and eastern expansion. Alexander III of Macedonia (better known as Alexander the Great) finally realised a soupçon of unity and security in having forged an empire that stretched from Greece to India. If not for the Persians, this might might have gone westward instead and would have handily defeated the emergent Romans and left a very different legacy for the world to inherit, but affairs beyond the Adriatic were not of much concern for the Greeks. Roman incursions and baiting conflict (since the Rome would not engage in a dishonourable, unprovoked war but were not beyond skirting integrity by proxy) were nothing to rattle the Greeks, until a relative of Alexander the Great concluded that his cousin had already conquered whatever lands east there was to be taken, and this certain Pyrrhus of Epirus thought that holdings in Italy might be worth pursuing. A minor territorial-waters dispute between the Romans and a Greek city gave Pyrrhus the excuse he sought for sending in his armies.
Whereas Roman ascendency had only been heretofore regarded as a local problem and no real threat, the fledgling empire suddenly found itself thrust on the international stage. Pyrrhus did not receive the reception he had expected when he brought his armies into Magna Græcia, the colonies not interested in submitting to home-rule and the Roman fighting force was much more formidable an sophisticated than the hearsay that dismissed Rome as another barbarian tribe. Pyrrhus did manage a few costly gains and is forever embodied as the Pyrrhic Victory, saying that that the could not possibly survive another such win against the Romans. The involvement of this prince only served to delay the inevitable conquest of Magna Græcia and introduced the Romans to Greek fighting styles and battle elephants, which made their later encounters with Hannibal during the Punic Wars to follow not completely new and unexpected. These elephants, incidentally, were initially terrifying apparitions to the superstitious Romans, but they quickly devised a counter-attack, like the Rebels against the AT-ATs on Hoth, of circling the creature from a fast moving chariot and binding them with rope. Rome came to dominate all of Italy—and eventually Greek lands in the eastern Mediterranean, and fundamentally brought about the end of the independent city-state as a form of government, meaning that no nation was to exist without some allegiance, league or territorial expansion.

Friday, 22 August 2014

change-registry oder encyclopedia brown

I remember when, in some date-stamped recollections, when a school assignment required research in actual books and was a tethered affair. Once I was asked to produce a sort of newspaper—not an annual review or compilation of events but an an actual daily covering some chosen date from the Middle Ages. I found the gaps absolutely immense, without a more liberal deadline for creating this anachronism, which I was probably making tougher than it was supposed to be, not content to focus on a single coronation or day on the battlefield. The copy and the images came from a vintage edition of encyclopedias, I remember, with a lot of manual cutting and pasting, aligning images with copy.
I wonder if such tasks were more original, if viewed from above, or resulted in the same degree of copypasta as might such homework deliver today. Books in the Reference Section were those that did not leave the Library. Wikipedia is a very fine thing but there is something to be said for the ability to thumb through a tome whose relevance is arranged according to the editors' plans. Later, we had a contemporary edition of Funk & Wagnall's that somewhat supplanted the older set and I knew classmates had an embarrassment of variety from various publishers and encyclopedists. A 1937 edition of a fine German sits on the shelf of furnished apartment, mostly as decoration I suppose, which I look through from time to time. I never thought of an encyclopedia as propaganda or as a snap-shot in time, even though I always relied on vintage editions myself.
The altas volume had some particular interesting insights concerning the direction of the German Reich, including the migration of the Germans, immigrant saturation and new naming-conventions. Though such compositions exist as chronologies and as the snap-shot I struggled to create, I wonder what it means in terms of research and originality that there's an easy footnote and method to cull a periodical.

sponsored links or it came from the internets

Have you noticed those footer advertising matrices that becoming more and more prevalent at the bottom of news articles? The content, from industries baiting the fears and vanities of white people, seems a little incongruous as how better-quality news outlets are rewarding their readership for actually finishing a story—or less punishing those who retreat too early to the comments to get a synopsis and a skeptical rendering. They’re nearly as irritating as a pop-up ad in so far as they appear like recommended reading. Everyone ought to design their own.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

can i haz?

Ark in Space has an interesting feature on a species of wild cat of the steppes of central Asia that has essential remained unchanged for some twelve-million years, with the branching off of modern felines. The Manul (Otocolobis manul) is also known as Pallas’ Cat for the German zoologist working in Russia that was the first to scientifically study the animal.
Though the size of a house-cat, Pallas’ Cat has a stockier build and heavy coat for the cold environment. Due to human encroachment and poaching for its pelt, the animal is becoming more and more threatened. Despite size and appearance, it is also not one to be tamed and adopted as a pet—plus because it lives in a very isolated place and does not come into proximity with members of its own kind or any others for that matter very often, the cats don’t seem to have a very well-developed immune-system and does not do well in captivity. Be sure to discover out more animal curiosities at the link.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: caput mundi or manifest destiny

The fledging republic of Rome was one of many Italian tribes with aspirations of expansion, security and trade—and probably would have been remained just another ambitious but obscure and forgettable clan without very original stories, had not they suffered a crushing defeat early on that tested their mettle and resilience and will for rebuilding and reform. The Roman Republic and Empire endured in the West for nearly a thousand years before the Gothic invasion, which precipitated its ultimate collapse. Imperium and trade were vehicles of culture—as the Latin language spread to ends of the earth, so too did the customs and beliefs that Romans adopted, with cults and dedications to Egyptian Ra and Osiris translated to Britain. We have the Gauls—specifically the Senones who crossed the Alps and occupied lands in northern Italy under the leadership of Brennus—to thank for kicking sand at the Romans. Some believe that the attack on Rome was a conspiracy between the Greek leaders of Syracuse in Sicily and Sparta—using the Gauls as a proxy force, to defeat Rome and gain control of the rest of the Italian peninsula. That is not how the Romans tell it—however, and as all records were destroyed it the siege, we’ll have to rely on the version of the vanquished. 
The Senones had crossed the Apennines and began raiding the Etruscan cities, including Siena. The Etruscan were former enemies of Rome but were now under an uneasy yoke of allegiance after surrendering to Rome. Those former battles probably made this flank of Roman territory vulnerable to incursion. In any case, Rome sent an embassy to negotiate a peace. When talks broke down, however, fighting resumed and the diplomats (against the standards of statecraft and the unwritten ius gentium, the Law of Nations, which addressed such conduct) joined in the scuffle. Outraged, Brennus demanded justice for this transgression and the citizens of Rome responded by appointing the diplomats as Military Tribunes. For this further insult, the Senones resolved to march south towards Rome. The Roman defensive lines fell rather quickly and panicked, the Romans retreated to the citadel—leaving the gates open and the city vulnerable. Not quite believing that success came so easily, the Senones waited a full day before entering the city—unconvinced that it was not a trap of some sort. With all the population holed-up, the invaders decided that they would starve the Romans out and prevail by attrition. The city was looted and with no one to respond, blazes engulfed much of the city. The Senones, however, were not well equipped for this waiting-game either and not accustomed to the hot weather and probably just wanted to go home at this point. Eventually a deal was struck, allowing the Romans to purchase peace at the high price of one thousand pounds (libra or libra pondo—a pound by weight, and hence the abbreviation lb and symbol £) of gold. As the Romans were emptying out there coffers, they noticed that the balance was weighted in Brennus’ favour—taking more gold to make a pound than it should have. When the Romans objected, Brennus slammed down his belt and sword, tipping the scales even more to his advantage, saying “Woe to the vanquished”—“Vae victis.” Dishonoured and their city in ruins, the Romans thought about disbanding and abandoning their capital and starting over, but the Senate rallied the people to rebuild—which gave us the jumbled, crowded Eternal City of today, being that there was little time for civic-planning as opposed to the orderly garrisons and outposts that the legions built as exhibitions began again almost immediately, and adopted new policies towards expansion and empire, having learnt from this experience—also adopting the fighting style and weapons of the Gauls. Of course, Rome would come to one day rule over Gaul and much of the broader expanses influenced by Celtic peoples, rebuilt and refurbished for conquest.

netzpolitik oder policy womp

The German government is releasing a new and comprehensive strategy aimed to make legislation and governance into a framework sufficient to keep pace with connectivity and interconnectedness.
As this commentator writing for Spiegel characterises the agenda (auf Deutsch) a bit like the impossible Christmas wish-list of a precocious child—or the goals, as-stated, of a civic-minded beauty-pageant contestant, what with calls and promises of a high-speed internet connection for all Germans, better protection of intellectual-property, enhanced security for potential vulnerable infrastructure (power-grids and other utilities), support for start-up ventures, smart-homes, smart-roads, etc.

All these ideas are excellent, but I believe a little naïve—not that bold dreaming is something we ought to be timid about—as the law and budget as it stands and it is imagined is inadequate to address all these possibilities, fulfillments and disappointments. There is some language in the programme, speaking of let-downs, however, that seems long overdue and a mandate that can and ought to be met. There is a more timely reporting requirement for breaches that compromise users’ information, plus a sort of minimum liability insurance for companies who would presume to handle such volumes of data so they might not leave the gate unhitched and bigger penalties if they do. This is not creating an information cartel of just a few big corporations that have and hold the dossiers of everyone, but rather—I think—a disincentive for morbid curiosity and records never to be retired and destroyed.

ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay

I certainly hope there is not another massive volcanic eruption in Iceland that will disrupt air-transportation, like in years past.
There is little solace in such disasters, even when far away from civilisation, but it turned out to be a big consolation for us when Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced Kajagoogoo in my head) erupted, and anticipating endless problems with flying, it inspired us to get Old Lady. The volcano in question this time is called Bárðarbunga, which is easier to say and sounds pretty melodious too. It wouldn’t sound really that close to “cowabunga,” owing to the th- sound—which entered American English as the trademark greeting of Chief Thunderthud on the Howdy Doody Show in the 1950s.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

buried treasure or spandau ballet

The Local (Germany's English daily) reports that the chief of the German Socialist Unity Party (die Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, the SED dissolved after the reunification of the country and recast as the Party of Democratic Socialism with a cadet coalition of liberal political parties) is demanding that the granite colossal—the head at least, of Vladimir Lenin join an ensemble of other displaced statues in the Spandau Citadel.
The party chief insists that this chapter in German history ought to be acknowledged as any other, and is requesting that the head be retrieved from the spot in Köpenick Forest on Berlin’s outskirts, where it was interred after being dismantled with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The majestic marbles that would keep the giant head company are the likenesses of prestigious Germans that Kaiser Wilhelm II commissioned and displayed along the Siegesallee (Victory Avenue) at the axis of the city’s Tiergarten district. The statues and Siegessäule (the iconic Winged Victory) were relocated during WWII because they were in the way of architect Albert Speer’s designs for Welthauptstadt Germania to another park of the park—where the column remains today. Allied powers feared that the statues could incite imperialist sympathies and wanted to toss them on one of the numerous rubble heaps of Berlin. A museum curator convinced the authorities however to bury the statues on the grounds of Schloss Bellevue—the residence of today’s Bundespräsident. The horde was rediscovered in 1979 and eventually made their way to Spandau Citadel, which will become a showcase and proper home for these statues and others, telling the city’s history through monuments and memorials due to open to the public early next year.

Monday, 18 August 2014

ıstihbarat

Although America has had the good-sense to refrain from comment so far over revelations that the German intelligence agency eavesdropped—though accidentally, of course, but I imaging that the business of spying is always a bit clingy no matter what one's ambitions are—on the US secretaries of State. I wager, however, that the same mute referees are ecstatic that the Turkish government, also apparently overheard as part of a dragnet, are very vocal about their dissatisfaction. Though such behaviour should not come as any measure of surprise for the capable or the willing, Turkey is demanding an explanation for these actions, as if any Germany could deliver any honest accounting of peer-pressure—aside from all the fears adjudged as clear and present. What do you think?  Was the action, response or both what was badgered, goaded-on?

it happened on the way to the forum: proletariat or body-politic

As no reliable, direct records of Roman history are extant prior to the sacking of the city by the Gauls in 390 BC, politicians and historians had considerable license in constructing the mythology, building prophetic parallels and claim firsts that may or may not have happened exactly in the Romans’ favour.
One example was in the creation of the Republic, which preceded the institution of democracy in Athens by a bald year—with the ousting of the city’s final monarch and the pledge of the populace never again to embrace monarch—and pain of death for any usurper. The democracy practiced among both great civilizations is quite different—with citizenship not a birthright, slavery and suffrage vested in only land-owning males—than contemporary democracies and were quite different in terms of leadership from each other. The composition of the consul evolved many times over the centuries, but in general, candidates were elected by their peers to a term of office of one year—no reelection could be sought for consecutive years and often there was the counter-balance of co-magistrates—each with the power to veto (I forbid) any decision of the other. Because the annual election to select new leaders was also subject to veto and considerable delay, usually a compromise was brokered—lest any politician be accused of hording too much power. No duly selected consul could claim emergency powers or institute martial-law, but such situations of course arose quite often. In order to manage the ship of state during war and invasions, a separate individual was selected—no campaigning—as dictator, given absolute power to prosecute the task he was elected for, and then expected to graciously retire. All dictators of Rome kept good to this oath—until Julius Caesar. Even with this new form of government, a large demographic, the majority of the population, were not free from tyranny, however, as the patrician class excluded the plebeians, the artisans and soldiers, from high office, both secular and religious.

Disenfranchised, the plebeians saw little benefit from the wars they fought and had little influence over defensive policy. Insurmountable debt was also a common problem—the common people having become inescapably indentured to the usury of the elite, with a lot of debts piling up while away at war and households bought on credit. The plebeians pushed for social reform in stages, mostly through their most powerful weapon—withdrawal (secession plebis) or a sort of a general strike that left the city defenseless. More than once, the city was invaded and the senate lured them back with rhetoric—saying it was no good for the hands and mouth to begrudge the lazy stomach. Some changes were forth-coming: though not outright land re-distribution or debt-forgiveness but a limit on how much land the wealthy could own, not eligibility to stand for consul but the creation of office of tribune chosen by and for the plebs (also with crucial veto-powers), and perhaps, most importantly the Twelve Tables (Leges Duodecim Tabularum) that listed the laws of Rome on display in the commons for all to read and memorise to protect from capricious justice—which mostly sided with the rich and powerful. There was, however, at least one insult in the codex, committing one unwritten law, a social more, to the bronze tablets forbidding the marriage between a patrician and a plebeian citizen.

man cave

BLDGBlog shares an interesting feature article on the system of subterranean warehouses and supply-dens that the US has catacombed in Norway and other places on the periphery of the American Military Empire and the challenges for accounting for all these hidden stashes, that allow the military to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice with front-loaded equipage. In characteristic fashion, BLDGBlog also shares some clever and insightful commentary on the exercise, speculating that it is akin to the pharaohs including all the comforts and luxury of the living in their tombs—or of a back-up copy of France being created in China.
Formerly, during the land-grabs and claim-jumping of the colonial powers, control of remote lands, like Diego Garcia, Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha, the Falklands, Gibraltar, Hawaii, Alaska and countless guano-islands for refueling, shore-leave and to maintain a sphere of influence—all of which seems a bit more adoring (if less invasive) than something hidden and under perpetual lease.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: opiate for the masses

After the divine disappearance of Rome's founder and first king, the quite polar-opposite figure of Numa Pompilius was elected as monarch.

This tradition of nominating kings, though absolute rulers for life, and sometimes reluctant ones, is a marked statement in the fable of Rome, as opposed to hereditary rule and divine-right, which seemed to court disaster among other nations. Numa's vastly different vision and direction also offers some explanation for the Romans' pathetic beginnings. Sabine by birth, maybe as an apology for abducting the tribe's women and compared to Romulus, Numa was an a disciplined æsthetic soul. Being called out of retirement and much content to take long walks in the countryside and converse with the gods, the new king sought to turn the fledgling city away from battle and towards peace and introspection, culling a concord that lasted throughout his reign until the posture of Rome suffered another inversion.
Drawing from influences from the Greeks and the Etruscans to the north, Numa created the Roman religion and embellished the panoply with superstition and ritual that were to endure throughout the Roman civilisation. To occupy the standing-army that Romulus had created and to placate the populace, Numa invented a host of obligations and prestigious offices, including that of the the chief priest, Pontifex Maximus (the great bridge-builder, which is a title that the popes of Rome carry to this day), calendar reform and the cults of useful gods, like Terminus, the god of boundaries, and Janus, the two faced deity of war and peace that looked forwards and backwards.  Numa's institution were enduring and the following semi-legendary kings of Rome, seven in all, contributed to the Roman ideal and waxed between war and peace, until Lucius Tarquinis Superbus (the Proud) whose abuses caused the citizenry to reject all monarchs and spurred the creation of the republic, though far from democratic in its practices—though kept together in part due to inherited piety.

know thy selfie

Writing for Aeon magazine, philosopher Simon Blackburn delivers a thorough and thoughful analysis on the differences among vanity, narcissism and self-esteem and the interplay that too often results from the misapprehension of one for another. Bravery to do the needful is one thing—else we would too easily wither away from those challenges that we ought to confront, but the hubris that comes with never courting any real resistance or dissent is quite another, and particularly treacherous when it comes to assaying those things that are not instantly condemned or applauded, like leadership and relationships. Rather than acknowledging that pride and over-confidence has made us prone for a fall, praise for ourselves and for those kindred—who'll echo that praise, quickly turns into arrogance. If the first few sentences were not scathing enough, the spectres of all the great thinkers of the past become an absolute haunt, hopefully to disabuse us from our vanities—not for accomplishment but for admiration. What do you think? Does the medium rather make something harmless—or even invert them into something of a vulnerable catharsis?

everything zen

Free to download, there is an engaging application meant, rather than provide another distraction, to sharpen one's focus and induce relaxation—perhaps mindfulness, through zen exercises in the form of bio-feedback. I think that this is something worth a try. ॐ

it happened on the way to the forum: regnum romanum

The podcast is dead; long live the podcast. Searching for something to make the long commutes home pass a little quicker—and without the distraction of giving lip-service to learning a new language with those audio-lessons, I rediscovered a cache of podcasts, easy too download and enjoy on the drive on some really engrossing subjects. There are hundreds of episodes (possibly discontinued) available at no cost, which are far from dry lectures, which cover the entire history, from legendary beginnings, the monarchy, the new republic, the imperium and downfall—with lots of exciting cliffhangers and interesting asides. Just at the start of this adventure, I was really impressed with the stories of the early, semi-legendary kings and the highly moralising and indemnifying way the fables had been crafted over the millennia to make a myth of civic-pride and belonging. I really did not know what stories the Romans made for themselves to mark the transition from the sack of Troy to recorded history, but the tale picks up with Prince Aeneas and the other refugees from Troy received as guests by the kingdom of Alba Longa in central Italy, and the king of the Latins weds his daughter to the exiled prince, whose ancestors rule the land for generations.
Familial strife came around when the brother of the rightful king took control of the treasury, including the gold brought from Troy and installed himself as ruler. In order to prevent any heirs from reclaiming the thrown, the uncle had the king's daughter locked away and sworn to celibacy. The gods had other plans, however (and this is really one of the few times that there is divine intervention in the human affairs of Rome), and the god Mars—or according to some sources, the demi-god Hercules—sired twins by the king's daughter. Outraged, the uncle ordered the children drowned in the Tiber by a huntsman—although the river was low at the time and the huntsman was loath to slog through the mud and so just left the twins in a basket. The babies were found by a She-Wolf and a Woodpecker (possibly an ancestor of the twins transformed into a bird for rebuffing the amorous advances of the witch Circe) who took care of them, until a shepherd and his wife found them and raised them as their own. Eventually word of these wonder-twins got back to the wicked uncle and he decided to investigate. Cued into the truth about their birthright, Romulus and Remus, as they were called, defeated the wicked uncle and restored their grandfather to his rightful place. While the could have inherited Alba, the twins wanted to found a new settlement, Romulus opting for the Palatine Hill and Remus for the Aventine. Having learnt the art of augury from Pictus the Woodpecker, they proposed to settle the matter that way.

When Remus refuses to relent to his brother's interpretation, however, much like his wicked uncle, Romulus kills him and goes on to found the City of Rome and establish its first political and military institutions—the Senate of Patricians, descendants of the Trojan refugees, and the Legions, a militia where rank is bestowed by what kind of horses, weapons and armour each can afford to bring to defence (and offence) of the city. Having gotten off to this start, Rome's neighbouring tribes did not want anything to do with the new city, including Alba Longa, fearful that Romulus would to try usurp more power. In order to grow in size and strength, increasing the population which only consisted of bureaucrats and soldiers at that point, Romulus began inviting in any and all of the dispossessed—and pirates, thieves, highwaymen, mercenaries and other unsavoury exiles came to the new city to start over. It was a good ploy to grow the new city but as the immigrant population was exclusively male, Romulus realised that the city would soon wither away. As bringing in more personae non grata made the Romans even less desirable, Romulus concocted a plan to abduct wives for his people. A bit of trickery similar to Odysseus' Trojan Horse, Roman announced a huge feast to celebrate the god Neptune and invited all the local tribes as a gesture of good-will. Many came, including the Sabines, who were strictly against inter-marriage. At the height of the party, the Romans advanced on the Sabine women and tried to steal them away. Their husbands, fathers and brothers quickly came to the rescue and intense fighting followed. The women then through themselves into the fray, standing in between fighting Roman and Sabine, imploring them to stop the fighting and offering themselves to their Roman abductors, proclaiming that they would rather die themselves than live as orphans or widow-makers.
This did not, of course, go over so well either but the Kingdom of Rome saw its founding. I wondered why Rome would choose (if it had a choice in the matter) to have such unscrupulous beginnings with expatriates, fratricide, a citizenry of brigands and rape, when they could have limned a more flattering and authoritative origin. Maybe this license becomes clearer in episodes. It is also pretty remarkable how Rome was built in a day—in terms of its signature and guiding organisations at least, but I suppose that that is pretty common for the semi-mythical. If it is not already the case, I suspect that people—five-hundred years from now, will have forgotten about the pantheon of America's Founding Fathers and be satisfied knowing only this George Washington, who was born of a Cherry Tree—with the wooden teeth to prove it—and single-handedly defeated the British and wrote the US constitution and the Republic emerged whole, like Athena bursting from the head of Zeus, fully-formed. Romulus' reign lasted about forty-years and was assumed into the realm of the gods—deified as Quirinius, the embodiment of Rome—while making a public sacrifice.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

unkraut or worldwide weed

Surviving the past three winters or so, exposed on the balcony, is a venerable old dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) that one day took up root in this since vacated pot. Even after the monk and botanist Gregor Mendel developed the theory of heredity by selecting for visible and measurable traits over successive generations of peas in a pod in the mid-1800s, many people still held to the once popular theory of spontaneous generation: that flies and worms and other vermin did not have natural parentage and arose out of the slime and muck and generally poor house-keeping.
I wonder if people believed the same about weeds (Unkräuter)—although the concept of weeds in gardening is a relatively new invention and heretofore certainly was not applied to the dandelion. The common and polite name for the flower does not have anything to do with its yellow bloom that some might find reminiscent of a lion's mane, but it is rather a corruption of the French for teeth of the lion, for its jagged leaves. That seems a little less iconic, but the modern name is a euphemism (Greek for “a holy silence”) its old reputation, when still considered Kraut—an herb with medicinal properties, rather than some worthless, old Unkraut. Originally, the plant was called in French pissenlit—wet the bed—because it was a diuretic, and native to all parts of the earth, there were many colourful, local variations on that phenomena. Being the lingua franca, it sought to clean up the world's vocabulary a bit. A similar sort of mannerly substitution occurred in English by inventing the words donkey and rooster to avoid saying something offensive. Tending a few weeds should cause no alarm, no matter the company.

mail-order or to be determined

BLDGBlog shares a glimpse of New Future Lab's latest print catalog that offers a dizzying array of products and services for shoppers in an imagined near future.

It draws on science-fiction and the speculations (and warnings) of futurists to imagine the marketing and packaging of some life-enhancing merchandise. The description of some of the items is appropriately tongue-in-cheek and there's a healthy bit of circumspection here vis-à-vis our own consumption and buying patterns, but a lot of these visions, gimmicks—neither too dark nor too utopian and post-commercial—could be realised in a few years time, perhaps kick-started by this very catalog. Though I am sort leagues better, it makes me think of those sleek, with some sort of retro-feeling, catalogs of promising, luxurious gadgets that they have on airplanes, which seem to always make for good reading-material.

pay the piper

One hundred prominent German authors have joined in protest with many members of the American literati over the apparently manipulative business model of one of the biggest book markets.

It seems that publishing houses who resist subscribing to the low royalty rates that the online retailer is pushing is finding delays with delivery and long wait-times for the availability of its titles, in addition to problems with negotiating contracts. On the side of the publishers, there have also been accusations of collusion in pricing and pittance to writers—over the pricing pressure that the seller demands. Authors certainly ought to have a say in their livelihoods and creativity should not be made to suffer over the petty embargoes of warehousing and shipping, but it seems that the strife was nascent at the beginning of selling books on-line: a very clever idea that took down those commercial libraries and pulp-cartels and provided a success way for people to expand their reading network (though at the expense of smaller shops). Along came electronic books, however, and the expectation of free or nominal costs for print not bound or committed to paper—and neither seller or sadly author can expect much of a commission. What do you think? Does this on-line book seller (diversified to all sorts of products now) pose a threat to literature—or are these just the advances and terms of a book deal taken to the shop?

Thursday, 14 August 2014

rayon x ou petites curies

A brilliant dispatch from Mental Floss relates the story of Marie Curies' inspired frustration and determination not to sit idly by as the horrors of WWI intruded into her homeland.

Dissatisfied with mere fidutiary contributions and recognising that the trench warfare was rough-shod and merciless, Curie and her daughter undertook a harrowing journey—without hesitation—retrieving a ingot of Radium that she had isolated from a bank safe deposit-box in Bordeaux and invented the science of radiology, radiography and disciplines of nuclear medicine (which no one could question owing to its novelty), learnt to drive an ambulance and single-handedly triage field hospitals (the recruiting and training of medics came later) equipped with x-ray equipment to help surgeons better assess and treat battle-damage and provide some heavy-handed sterilisation. Eventually succumbing to her own life-saving techniques, I imagine that the ingenious scientist was all too aware of the risk in her methods, which make the artefacts (her laboratory equipment, notebooks and clothing that are still radioactive), while pushing for progress in the techniques, a legacy of danger, imagination and outright bravery.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

minced oath or peacock not proud

The mire of war and meddling is always fertile ground for euphemism.  The US government, after the admission that humanitarian airstrikes are basically ineffective, more dazzle and sleight-of-hand, and that the refugee-corridor of those fleeing the violence remains unprotected, despite pledges that the combat phase of the Iraqi entanglement is over and there will be no more boots on the ground (parenthetically, in a combat role), is sending additional assessors to Northern Iraq to act as military advisers. These five hundred or so newly arrived troops are in addition to the force of eight-hundred acting as minders for the embassy and airport.

It’s a challenge to talk around the subject, just as it was with such figments as detainees for unlawful enemy combatants or Global War on Terrorism to Overseas Contingency Operations.  Naming-conventions aside and focusing on the real and immediate problems of the Iraqi people, I find this overall America programme of break-to-own (which is present in other aspects as well and not just military intervention) highly disturbing.  Among those stranded in the mountains and facing a slow but sure death, unable to return to their homelands, are the Yazidi, who ISIS wish to purge along with the other ethnic and religious minorities of Iraq to keep Islam pure.  The Yazidi are conflated as devil-worshippers by many outsiders because of their reverence for their chief holy caretaker, the Peacock Angel (Tawûsê Melek, مَلَك طَاوُوس).  Like Lucifer of other traditions, the Peacock Angel was introduced to God’s newest creation, Man, and asked to bow before him.  Both the Peacock Angel and Satan refused God’s request but for different reasons: the former out of loyal piety and the latter out of pride.  Both archangels were expelled, but the Yazidi caretaker is not regarded as a fallen angel but rather a redeemed one, who having repented, was forgiven.  Though this article of faith is much more than just a moral, I think there is a lesson to be learnt here about ethical obligations always trumping rhetoric and political aspirations.

meanwhile, back at the ranch

Isn't it a enjoy how everything is delivered just in time and in a neat little package to assuage the capitalists?

Mexico, which has a staunch reputation for protecting its native resources and treasures—even going so far as to forbid the import or shedding of American genetically-altered foodstuffs (but who would know, since Mexico only makes the news for its trespasses), has agreed after seven decades to relax the state monopoly on the petroleum industry and allow American and European concerns, chomping at the bit access to vast, untapped reserves. That such an announcement comes unheralded at the moment when American influence in the Middle East is collapsing and Russia threatens to cut-off the EU is quite a marvelous coincidence that bears no further investigation, as providence takes care of its own, even when the reporting is magical-thinking.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

slack and dune or totem and taboo

Most know the Dune franchise of Frank Herbert and son popularly from the 1984 cinematic adaptation (by David Lynch no less) and its political struggle to control the production of the spice melange by a cast of esoteric and archetypal characters. As memorable and hopefully piquing as this portrayal is, the battle for control of Arrakis—complete with intrigues that hint at the importance of the commodity and the safe-keeping of the controlling-cartel—the spectacle, I think, pushed the back-story further into the background and left the author's vision and prescience just out of reach. With fears of a robot-holocaust ravaging humanity popping up in the news lately—and from all different directions, it might be worth taking a look back at the saga that was penned in 1965 but tossed into the a far distant dystopia ten-thousand years from now.
Thinking-machines eventually came to see no value in human life, as if our creations once achieving genuine independence and sentience would revere us as gods—humans do not even do a good job at that, despite superstition and other frailties that cannot be programmed—and proceed to exterminate those that they cannot enslave, humans not built of valuable rare-earth metals.  The revolt ended with the enduring dictum “Thou shall not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind,” with many fascinating institutions developed over the eons to compensate for the loss of convenience that the prohibition and taboo brought about. Even if not so heavy-handed as the active destruction of humanity and more the sorrowful decline of creativity, faith and manners, I expect matters to acceleration much more quickly than anyone is prepared for—and certainly before mankind is about to explore the stars. What do you think? I am not sure why there is this sudden, apparent resurgence over the dangers of a robot take-over. Maybe it is due to insecurity over jobs or the imitation of thought that data-mining can execute. No matter how near or far Singularity is, such warnings go unheeded at our peril.

Monday, 11 August 2014

antecedent use

Remember when the US legislature united to re-frag French fries as Freedom Fries over the namesake's opposition to going to war with Iraq over pride and pretense? (Incidentally, frankfurters were re-branded as hot dogs for parallel reasons but that designation stuck.)  All things European were demonised as malingerers and overly-forgiving bastions of terrorism and Europe itself was re-divided as Old and New—the novelty and perhaps naïvety being good things in the eyes of demagogues.

Such warnings and reservations are quickly forgotten in the aftermath of greater, obscuring revelations regarding motive and offense and are only conveniently recalled. Just now, cheering the US for conducting airstrikes against the would-be caliphate, the European powers are rather having their noses rubbed in it by the by some members of the press, angling for hypocrisy, for calling for intervention and arming Kurdish factions in hopes of fostering stability. The war-hawks seem to be coming back to roost. There are no shrill cries yet, but it’s a frightful thought that foreign ministers might be pressed into action by the same dangerous chauvinistic rhetoric that has exacerbated every conflict in the region for generations. The first strain might be presenting itself in the form of claims by certain agents that Europe bankrolls al Qaeda and affiliates by paying exorbitant ransoms for hostages and just encourages the groups to act in this way. With Iraq reinvented as a legitimate target, who knows what standards of cooperation and decorum could follow?

lake district or mood indigo

The expanse of plain surrounding the metropolis of Leipzig—extending to the corner of Saxony-Anhalt, is known as the Neuseenland for the numerous artificial bodies of water created by the flooding of derelict mining operations. The process of reclamation takes decades as a lot of industrial pollutants have to be filtered away first so that people and Nature can enjoy these resources. The character is different, of course, from the marshy areas that once covered these plains before cities and farmland but the effect is stunning and attracting a new range of wildlife.
A surrendered mine-shaft, a former brown-coal (Braunkohl, lignite—the low-grade coal that comes from ancient peat-bogs found throughout Europe) extraction site, forms one very picturesque lake by the name of Runstedersee in the community of Braunsbedra that made a very nice venue for a party weekend. Deemed unsafe for bathing, however, it stands in the wake of the nearby Leuna Works and as a reminder that the area, though certain phases have passed and more care is taken concerning environmental impact, the area in general is not a post-industrial one. Originally built during the height of World War I by Robert Bosch for the synthesis of ammonia for the production of explosives, this huge chemical campus slowly diversified and the ammonia was used for the manufacture of fertilizer during the interbellum period. Moreover, with the loss of colonial-holdings, research into other means for obtaining rubber and fuel oil became vital for the reestablishment of civil and military prowess in Germany under the directorship of IG Farben (Interessen-Gemeinschaft… meaning syndicate of the dye-makers after their first commercial successes in creating artificial colouring agents).
Synthetic materials and the process for converting brown-coal into oil (Hydrierwerke) were pioneered at these factories. During World War II, the refineries suffered heavy damage from bombardment and the disruption to the supply-chain became a pivotal moment in the war. The complex was rebuilt during East Germany times and continues to operate as a fuel refinery and produces a wide range of chemicals and plastics. Hopefully, with better stewardship of a dirty business, Nature can reclaim this lake fully as well.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

autarky or war of words

It is strange how words become ammunition in reporting:

one would, reading the coverage of Russia's decision to impose strict limits on imports of US and EU goods, think it was something that could be laughed-off and easily dismissed as a bluff or empty-threat, whereas the commensurable response by the West and associates is called by the more macho name of embargo. Sparingly, the term sanctions is sometimes applied. Pretensions aside, I believe that it is a buyers' market, and it is not so easy to find contingency consumers as it is to find alternate suppliers.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

creative-commons or infinite monkeys typing

Wikipedia is rebuffing the take-down requests of a nature photographer, who after leaving his camera disguised in the jungle to capture images of macaques of Indonesia discovered that the monkey had discovered the hidden device and took hundreds of selfies.

Since the images have gone viral, the photographer hoped to earn something in the form of royalties or at least recognition and became rather irked when the images became part of Wikipedia's open collection. Demands that the pictures be removed and relegated to the nature photographer were rejected by the public encyclopedia, reasoning that the monkeys were the authors of the collection and it would be their decision if the material remained in the public-domain or not. US statute, which Wikipedia cites and most editors agree with, states that non-human authors have no automatic expectation of attribution and so such material defaults to be released to public-domain. What do you think of this legal battle, this copy-fight? The photographer did go through a lot of trouble and expensive to set up this photo-booth but maybe the macaque also knew what he was creating.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

gentrification or the YUN ones

The Daily Beast featured recently a bitter-sweet and thought-provoking interview and profile of a blogger who is passionately documented the death-knells of a great metropolis. New York City is being summarily and quickly terraformed into a suburban-idyll, a playground acceptable to American Mid-Western standards and values and is being turned away from its eclectic identity.

The main reasons behind this lamentable, and frustratingly unstoppable, transformation is clearly exponentially high rents that price not only residents but also small shops out of the market, with only monied franchises to act as place-holders and no real anchors of the community—plus the leadership of Gotham over the last decade that helped to sanitize the landscape and insert comfortable order. It is a warning, years in the making but accelerating exponentially, that other great cities failed to heed, like London, Paris and the larger cities of Germany, too, that are quickly becoming unlivable and sacrificing their character and drive, despite the hard lessons of the property-bubble and subsequent burst, tendered by the same conditions. There is another less flattering contributor to this change that is not easy to address: inheriting the success of the Yuppies, the Young Urban Narcissists (YUNs) are pleased to have this backdrop for their curricula vitarum without dealing with the grittiness and reminders of bootstrapping and failure that do not belong in the picture. What do you think? Is a balance possibly for urban blight? The blogger, though angry and sad to see this charm slip away, has no plans to leave because he also has the chance to find those redeeming malingerers.

wolfssegen oder an der grenze

Derived from the same Latin root as the Roman Limes—the border of the frontier and furthest reaches of the empire, a liminal being is one that is on the perimeter and stays back and forth between more comfortable and familiar categories, and defies easy classification. Limen—or liminal points—are the terms for the threshold of mental or physical sensation, those disappearingly small perceptions that are just on the edge of the senses or awareness and a gauge for dismissing what one may have just imagined. Such beings partake of two, usually opposed, states and are stock-characters of folklore and fantasy, from chimera and hybrid creatures, part human, part beast, to vampires, zombies and other ghouls, neither alive nor dead—even to cyborgs and thinking-machines and the uncanniness that surrounds them.

Equally curious is the repulsion and attraction that normal humans have to them, whether classic and reputable or new and novel. Wolfssegener, Wolf Charmers, are ancient professionals—probably dating back to prehistory—and were quite respected in villages, like the figure of a shaman or witch-doctor, for keeping themselves and livestock safe from wolf-raids. Once Europe was taken by the mania of witch-trials in the late Middle Ages, however, Wolf-Charmers were persecuted as werewolves themselves. Such hysteria is a cyclical occurrence and happens in all cultures, and for all the attention that this chapter has received, it may not even be the most wide-spread maker of monsters (NDSAP propagandists in 1930s and 1940s framed the historic witch-hunts as a conspiracy to destroy Aryan womanhood, and even the early and revival witch-trials differed significantly in character—the former more concerned with practitioners currying unfair advantage over their neighbours with magic and the latter having more to do with social-order and the anarchy caused by being in league with the Devil). As in Medieval Europe, coping with the stresses of societal change—those forces which push the limits of what we perceive as normal and normative, which included the dawn of the Age of Exploration, the Reformation and counter-movements, seem to compel populations to create, designate liminal status.