Thursday, 13 August 2015

hand of glory

With the collapse of the banking system in Greece, a threatened haircut for private accounts and even the strict rationing of access to money, much of the affected population is understandably still wary of entrusting their wealth to any such institution. This lack of confidence and the physical lack of a safe place to park one’s money—the tycoons and magnates can be more resourceful and liquid, as the magnificent BLDGBlog inspects has led many stashing their cash and valuables under the mattress, and burglars are keenly aware of this shift.  Meanwhile, residents are resorting to creative methods of do-it-yourself security-measures in order to stave off or at least discourage break-ins.

I think that this practise and trend won’t stop at the borders and there will be an artistic revival in robbery and defense—skills that have very much atrophied as it was formerly more profitably and less risky to seek out victims virtually and at a distance or to simply exploit and abuse under a legal รฆgis—that, or just making neighbourhoods more gentrified. This scary and traumatic new landscape reminds me of some of the superstitious rites and rituals that I have encountered in my latest reading assignment: the Golden Bough, which goes into ethnographic detail over some of the totems and talismans that both crooks and potential victims employ.  The so called hand of glory—which sounds like a slumber party game, is a corruption of the word for mandrake root, which was also believed to possess paralyzing magical properties, but evolved into the ceremony of taking a desiccated, dismembered hand of some infamous master-criminal (although, like with the lucky rabbit’s foot not really a charm for the unfortunate rabbit, one wonders how the culprit was caught or lost that hand in the first place) mummified and given a candle to hold, which would supposedly render the inhabitants of the dwelling being burgled immobile. Various other gruesome candles made of the tallows of cadavers that met their fate in specific ways make the thief invisible or otherwise impervious and evade discovery or capture. As a recourse, victims could toss a voodoo doll, an effigy into a bramble bush to ensure that the thief would be caught and justice would be served. I wonder if in this new environment, where abstract things like a store of wealth becomes again made real, a regression that some of the sheltered, privileged classes will regard as positively medieval, new amulets and charms will be invented for the inventory of coping.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

tow the line or beyond the bumper sticker

Via Neatorama comes a cavalcade of crap to proudly show one’s party affiliation for the rather crowded class of contenders. I feel much sorrow for our American friends and what they’re about to be subjected to—no matter who pulls into the lead, and I sincerely hope that the candidates had no input whatsoever into what awful, hokey merchandise that there names are attached to. I couldn’t imagine any of this going through the paces of an official endorsement.
I suppose some of these high-ticket, collectibles could be a way of individual donors getting around campaign contribution limitations, but I do not know for sure.  Take a look at the full emporium at Gizmodo in case you find yourself in need of a Clinton beer coozie or a Bush guacamole bowl or a signed copy of the US constitution by an independent candidate. Given these dynastic struggles, I am not even sure what decade it is over there.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

maelstrom or ta-ta for now

Corporate Europe Observatory handily tackles the the hopelessly, visceral public (though deserved) mistrust on the end-stage rounds of the secret and privileged TTIP negotiations with a selection of fine new charts and graphs that distill the barrage of intentionally confusing and cross-purposed leaked propaganda that shows where the bodies are buried and what business groups have been lobbying most vociferously. Although the appointment of Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrรถm hinged on greater transparency and more public-interest inclusion, this watchdog demonstrates that precious little change is forthcoming and the only arms that the people can take up against this wholesale selling-out is by staying informed through such advocating outlets.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

oh weal, oh woe and quid pro quo, so little time, so much to know

Via the peripatetic par excellence Dangerous Minds, comes this interesting and provocative book review from the Guardian of the encroaching post-capitalist era that’s taking place almost despite of ourselves. I hope against hope that the prognosis and synthesis is correct—that it is time for us to be utopians and maybe no longer be ingrates to the comforts that we’ve inherited that past visionaries would have surely deemed realised. The capitalists system is failing us and will moreover be our downfall if not more carefully mitigated, but it seems that no lessons from the distant or recent past have made much of an impression. I fear that revolutionaries and reformers have woefully underestimated the insidiously opportunist and adaptive nature of their opponent. The wealth gap, the disparity between rich and poor, is a significant measure—but I am starting to think that it is only that, a measure.

While certainly a problem and has enabled modern day slavery and serfdom to continue and grow unabated, I wonder if computer-generated alternatives, the sharing economy won’t just be creating more capitalist-controls in different guises. The creation of markets always results in winners and losers. Something that’s very dear but dangerously under-priced I think might be the engine that keeps the old system of avarice going. Governments and corporate influence through lobbying comes cheap and it’s the working classes and environment that pay. Peddling a little influence has led to massive deregulation and a virtual defanging of those mechanism meant to protect those loser disadvantaged by emerging markets, off-shoring, outsourcing, tax avoidance (that makes the position of the scoff-laws stronger) and most importantly, in my opinion, the dismantling and privatisation of public institutions and services contracted out. The battlefield is littered with all sorts of examples that have resulted in monumental miscarriages of the public good—from mercenaries in Iraq to the horrendous response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans—but the phenomenon perhaps most disturbing and far-reaching consequences is the breakdown of the educational system with rising tuition costs, for-profit colleges, defunding public schools, and sponsored educational material. Without even addressing the hardships and degradations that teachers face, the students themselves are matriculating into a system where competition goes unquestioned (because the classes are over-priced but obviously will deliver the same riches in kind upon graduation) and critical thinking is discouraged in favour of obsequiousness and thus the system is perpetuated. What do you think? Can the Sharing Economy run rings around old-money or will computers simply put us all out of our jobs?

Friday, 17 July 2015

noble lies oder lรผggenpresse

Madame Chancellor is getting quite the armchair beating and baiting lately. Not to say that her response to an unscripted plea was measured in reducing a young girl to tears or that her views of marriage equality—rather matrimony as defined, are either correct or callous, instead those interpretations are reflective (and very much so, I think) of the realities of European Union bureaucracy—unable to act on any resolution without unanimity that failed to address a Greek tragedy that was not inevitable (another source of vitriol, deservedly or not)—and populism, both broad and narrow. For economic reasons, Germany enjoys this strange type of mandate that’s lost on other member governments, whose politicians—despite the will of the public that they represent—are instead beholden to the Union and regimes and coalitions topple over curried-disfavour.
This encounter with a young refugee was unexpected and I believe was conducted in a human and sympathetic manner—insofar as possible, but maybe politicians ought not stop seeking out such photo-opportunities to portray themselves as kind aunties and uncles and instead pledge to do more to build prospects in the places where these asylum-seekers come from, but was constrained by her support-base, the polls. I bet the Chancellor was ashamed of herself but by the way she snapped at the minder, I think she didn’t care much for her image at that moment and did not try to backtrack. In the domestic arena, there would be a revolt among her political partners, not as an excuse or being an apologist for such attitudes, and alienation of a substantial voting bloc if she expressed more progressive views on gay marriage. As with an immigration policy which is at its core quite accommodating and is attacked for being too liberal, the Chancellor’s positive reforms towards greater tolerance and equality have really been in-stead with much of the rest of the world, but some factions become fixated on the word marriage—which the twice-married Chancellor reserved as a matter of choice and to placate her party. The same EU that’s the Sword of Damocles hanging over Greece could also dictate, by the same mechanisms or lack thereof, that marriage equality be universal among members. What do you think? Might does not confer sole entitlement to the exercise of democracy—or the illusion of such—and it becomes the tyranny of the privileged and useful.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

namely: plutographic

Not to take any wind out of the sails of our celestial celebrity, via the Oxford English Dictionary’s daily vocabulary teaser comes a little jewel of a word, coined by the writer Tom Wolfe, plutography.

Though we are enduring another Gilded Age of extravagance, conspicuous-consumption and wealth disparity that really revivals the uneven landscape of the 1980s, the term by author of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Bonfire of the Vanities it seems particularly useful and adept at describing the fascination held for the elites, especially as captured in the tabloid press and the syndicated series Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous of that time. Of course, we like to think that we’ve matured beyond such enthralments—but they’re still very much with us and romanced in myriad ways. Contemporary word-smiths would much more readily wield the unbound and blunt morpheme porn (as in poverty-porn for urban blight) to describe something we all recognise as vulgar and provocative in our social betters. Next time I see such an ostentatious display, I’ll call it plutography.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

meanwhile, back at the agora oder unsichbares hand

I fear that the Greek people are being saddled with a curse that will survive many generations, sort of like predatory pay-day loan storefront lent legitimacy by central banks’ underwriting that traps people down on their luck in a vicious and unending cycle, pushed into a coup d’Etat. The most optimistic estimates predict, I heard, for repayment—just getting back to zero and being broke again (the condition that most countries cling precariously to) and not in arrears or receivership—is at best a hundred years and that is contingent on a period of peace and stability that has not been enjoyed in a long, long time.

The Greeks, of course, have a term for such hegemony already in their philosophical quiver—though in a different context—namely, Frankocratia, the period of rule by the Germans and the French (the Franks) with the mission-spill of the Crusades, and while I think it behooves one to have an abundance of caution when assigning blame, not because the affairs awash with pure intentions, but pointing the fingers at a an obvious villain tends to deflect attention from the real Putsch and even absolve the corporate interests behind everything. The Invisible Hand of the market. Meanwhile, Athens is in the process of readying a fire-sale of its heirlooms and heritage as collateral just to have permission to re-open their banks—including institutions that were profitable for the state, like the national lottery, airport administration and even becoming more restrictive to public right-of-way and beach access. Who knows what’s to follow? The privatisation process will be overseen by Germany, which has some experience in this field, having had established the so-called Treuhandanstalt (trust agency) to administer the transition of state-controlled industry into to the capitalist system after the reunification and four decades of East German pension funds and business paradigms had to be integrated. This programme has not been without its contentious detractors, hardships and heart-ache as well.

Monday, 6 July 2015

grexit, stage left

Naturally the chorus of international observers and lenders bemoaned the Greek referendum up until the last moment after the polls closed and the ballots counted, crying that such a move to distance itself from the European Union, notably a political experiment and not an economic bloc primarily, did not behove the country and would not give them a better bargaining position. I don’t know that I would place much trust in any of the oligarchs championing one course of action over the other, since they undoubtedly have obscured agendas and some stand to benefit regardless—or in spite—of the outcome at the expense of others.
Sovereign debt was not what brought Greece to wrack and ruin, and after six years of being in arrears with economic contraction and punishing privations and in an even sorrier state—who could blame the people for vocalising one way forward when a decision was forced upon them, steering towards the sea-monster Scylla and knowing there would be sacrifice to avoid sure destruction if they got too near the whirlpool of Charybdis, like Odysseus and his crew—but rather the world-wide recession is to blame. perpetrated by market bubbles that exposed borrowing countries to faults in EU refinancing mechanisms. Obfuscation also on the part of the supranational banking sector, shoring up Greece’s portfolio for an EU who wanted to hear exactly that—not a Europe without Greece or a Greek state that was only on the periphery, like the other Balkan marches. The parallel is imperfect, chiefly due to Greece’s dues-paying membership in the EU, but a sanguine and constructive comparison is to be found in Argentina’s bold decision, facing bankruptcy a decade hence, to unpeg its currency from another sort of hegemony, the US dollar, and face down months and years of chaos and hardship, to emerge the more robust for the dare—though an opportunity arguably squandered by not undertaking more lasting reforms in the good years. If Greece does adopt this tacking manล“uvre after all, let’s hope it does ultimately flourish.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

#grexit, #PRexit

Patriotism aside, the USA and the EU are in many ways organised around the same basic principles. Although I am sure that many would like to back away from such a comparison by pointing out important distinctions and the fact that the US is a more (or less, depending on one’s point of view) coherent bloc, despite or because of varying jurisdiction, taxes, etc.
The US cannot exactly boot out the recalcitrant and the under-performing and succession has been made an illegal-fiction—and while the fledgling EU has untried provisions to kick-out members or let them leave voluntarily, and perhaps more importantly, on balance with the insistence that this experiment will work, the ability to selectively invite new partners—which really isn’t a possibility for America—and the core of badly-behaving Europe achieve a new and hopefully better character in expanding its borders. Though many of the contiguous territory, in my opinion, are in far worse financial straits, the Colombian Union is baiting and beating up on one of its colonial outliers in insolvent Puerto Rico with mounting attention that may well match captivation that the Greek tragedy is providing.  Receivership does not seem like an option that will do anyone any good, other than the lenders of last resort.

eyalets and encomia

Though now I know that the frigate on the obverse of the old drachma coin represents the vessel of the head of the Greek admiralty and freedom-fighter Constantine Kanaris, thinking on the possibly eminent return of the currency, the nature of nomos, numisma and the Union, the paradoxical Ship of Theseus—where one speculates if a boat is still the same boat if one has replaced a single nail, plank, sail, jib and mast, the entire deck and eventually though still called Theseus’ comprises none of the original composition.

Kanaris was celebrated by the Greek independence movement of the 1820s and 1830s for having destroyed a large part of the Ottoman Armada and eventually securing freedom from the empire. It’s enough fractious history for the West to understand the Holy and Roman Empire of the Germans and the associated Kleinstaaterei, but the parallel career of the land of the sultans, which was longer-lived, far vaster and far more heterogeneous is an equally if not more fascinating story. There was the same sort of mediatisation and devolution among kingdoms, principalities, duchies, condominia, and ecclesiastics but under other territorial titles—eyalets, sanjaks and beylerbeys. The Ottoman Empire, which grew from the ruins of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), saw its decline and ultimate dissolution in the aftermath of World War I. There’s of course not a direct correspondence between contemporary imperium and Greek rebellion—just as the patchwork of Europe is not the apposite pole to the Ottoman Empire and trying to force the comparison is a disservice but maybe there is something to be gleaned from the dissection and reconstitution in the end.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

high commission or envoy extraordinary

Catching up on some episodes of Radio 4’s Great Lives series of jured biographies, I found myself being acquainted with quite a lot of heroic, indispensable individuals whom I’ve never heard of before.
I do enjoy the interaction of the champions and expert witnesses—especially when they don’t always choose to celebrate celebrity in the same way—and learning more about the character and background of the famed, but I appreciate even more discovering those overshadowed, interstitial contributors to the course of history, who, like something in between two known quantities that must necessarily be there if just for the sake of preserving the rules of periodicity.
One such essential but presently forgotten individual was statesman and diplomat John Gilbert Winant, US ambassador to the United Kingdom during the crucial years of WWII—introduced by the sitting US legate.  After the progressive Republican served consecutive terms as governor of New Hampshire, overseeing recovery programmes on the state-level that paralleled and complimented national efforts to pull America out of the Great Depression, FDR—recognising talent, crossed party-lines and appointed Winant first to the commission that codified the US Social Security System, c.f., having bipartisan support for Obamacare.
Shortly afterwards, in 1941, FDR named Winant to the UK diplomatic mission—replacing Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, who although a fellow Democrat maintained that US should not become entangled in foreign engagements and did not cut a very inspiring figure during the Blitz. Winant, with his outreach and industrial connections, became instrumental behind the scenes in persuading the US to join the war effort in Europe. Although the campaign on the political front ultimately did secure America’s commitment, some say that FDR dispatched Winant across the Atlantic also in order to avoid a potential challenge to his unprecedented fourth term as president. The BBC discussion includes many anecdotes and analysis that are well worth the listen—a chat that really draws one into the discussion.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

surplus city

Thanks to the Presurfer for reintroducing us to the urban-spelunking of explorer Darmon Richter with his adventures to Inner Mongolia to experience the abortive venture that became New Ordos City. Plans to create an “outstanding tourism city of China” did not materialise as expected and now the gilded, ultra-modern metropolis hosts only a few lonely tenants and stands deserted and truly irreconcilably devoid of people or activity. In two instalments, Richter’s reflections, photography and native curiosity really enhances learning about the world’s largest “ghost city” and what haunts this phenomenon.

uAwg oder plus-ones

Preparations for the upcoming G-7 summit are putting undo onus on residents, by-standers and potential antagonists for the selected venue, the alpine retreat of Schloss Elmau. For the sake of security theatre, the compound—which was ironically envisioned at the behest of a local countess back in 1914 as an artistic retreat where an international class of volunteers matriculated annually to cater to and learn from artists in residence and not the exclusive and now fortified hotel that it has become. Campers are disappointed to find many pitches off-limits and other accommodations already claimed by authorities or members of the press that claimed any vacancies months prior.
Traffic is restricted as well as taking one’s cows to pasture. Protesters are unable to vent their frustrations because, ostensibly intimidated by the police, they’ve been afforded no quarter. I hope a few demonstrators do seek through the cordon, disguised as horses or haystacks—not so there’s violence or chaos, but just so the make-believe atmosphere created for the overlords is not so flawless as to allow them to keep their delusions. What do you think? I hope this kind of caravan never comes to town.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

bypass or great big convoy

Via the ever-excellent Kottke comes this rather profound study and projection of how self-driving vehicles will alter the economy and particularly the gas-food-lodging infrastructure built to support commercial trucking. While it does not take much boldness to imagine a phalanx of safer, more efficient robot guided convoys taking truckers out of the drivers’ seats as it has already come to pass, but the impact does not of course stop with this last lament of middle-class bread-winners.
The article is written from an American perspective and by analogy compares the seismic changes that could occur to those communities that the interstate freeway system passed by and withered for the sake of expedience, but I think the analysis is completely universal. With manufacturing increasingly retreating into yonder tightfistedness, goods are forever being shuttled back and forth. Consuming merchandise created and delivered by machine, vast swathes of the human workforce (and ultimately, all of it) become redundant and without access to meaningful employment. The untenable situation is accelerating to an important junction, wherein either there is no demand to satisfy the production-capacity because no one has the tender to pay for it or money becomes a rather meaningless trifle and in a utopian society, humans are at last allowed to enjoy the fruit of their labour. I suppose that’s precisely the point of progress but it is hard for me to imagine that the robber-barons might herald this event joyfully—especially if they knowing ushered in their own severance. What do you think? Will those automated cars drive us all off a cliff or make our existence better by abolishing capital?

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

apple-core, baltimore

Quartz Magazine, punctuated with the hashtag #HistoryMatters, presents, I think, an important respectful overview of the dynamics behind urban decay and the general neglect and disdain of white-flight and corporate-flight that has led to the creation of this tense situation, simmering out of mind for decades. Just as onlookers find it incredulous that residents would burn and loot their only grocery outlet in their neighbourhood, no one is asking the more fundamental question why there was only an overpriced drug store and not a grocery market available to them and no one asks why the world is now captivated but hardly concerned with the long history of the city’s decline and the decisions that undermined its institutions and infrastructure.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

much coin, much care

Though I would not describe myself as a dedicated and studied numismatist—albeit perhaps somewhat more reasoned the collectors of com- memorative coin sets, which is exactly for whom they’re issued but I do admit to having a cigar box heavy with a small fortune, at face-value at least, of the special national series of the euro-zone members, the Bundeslรคnder, and various defunct currencies. I was never before given in change a Cypriot coin, however, and it did take a moment to register, remembering that only Greece had formerly been accorded with using something aside from Latin script but that was before Cyprus joined the Union, the name of the island displayed in Greek and Turkish. The totem depicted on the obverse, nearly worn away since 2008, the idol of Pomos, is a prehistoric talisman of fertility and the seven thousand year old figure is wearing a charm of herself around her neck—the portable versions being popular in the day. Given the events of that year, I hope Cyprus picked an auspicious time to adopt the euro.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015


once and future sins: a projection on how future generations might judge us a century hence

club med: a look at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations in Marseilles

the mads are calling: a chart to rate evil geniuses

she doesn’t even realise she’s a replicant: descend into uncanny valley with these interviews with robot and mind-clone, Bina 48

brainy, hefty, jokey: explaining secular stagnation through the lens of Smurf Village

Friday, 27 February 2015

cross-promotion or courier-new

After learning about some clever entrepreneurs’ plan to partner an open all hours chain of diners with parcel delivery services for the sake of more convenient pick-up and drop-off—and just after hearing of a single US hotline number to order anything from pizza to a horse-drawn carriage ride around Fantasy Island, I must say, while clever and enterprising—and possibly well-connected, I don’t know about this middle-man economic model. Sim salabim!

People should not be discouraged from being resourceful and even innovate, and if for instance, car-sharing schemes, facilitated logistically, result in reduced pollution and profit all involved, then that seems like a very good thing. Hoteliers and taxi drivers ought not to have an industry monopoly, and there’s certainly the old way of connecting and sharing that I think will resist being compartmentalized by any middle-man, however ambitious and deemed indispensable, but there is too a certain level of expertise and the safe-guards of bureaucracy and that’s not acquired overnight nor by mere association. Besides, being a concierge, not even a courier, is I think not a career that one aspires to.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

oฮบฮปฮฑฯ‡oฮผฮฑ, ฮฑฯฮบฮฑฮฝฯƒฮฑฯ‚

Here is a pretty keen vintage map of the United States of America, printed circa 1927 from a Greek cartographer.

It is interesting to see how familiar names are transcribed into Greek script and how, for instance, Baja California is rendered ฮšฮฑฯ„ฯ‰ (lower—reflecting the language before modern reforms that tried to reduce diglossia, the difference between between written and spoken speech—the later only imparted through academics). It is also an interesting bit of political commentary that Cuba is pigmented, perhaps, since even though the island was formally granted its independence from America back in 1902, the US retained control over most of the country’s domestic and foreign affairs until the early 1930s when the regime of Fulgencio Batista took control.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

pax populi

Back to World War III—though it’s hard to say when the declaration came, the sort of false urgency lent to housekeeping items that really could and ought to be tabled until cooler consideration can be paid, like breaking the internet or pushing through a shambles of a shady trade deal with international ramification usually seem to herald its beginning—it seems that the US is poised to directly, rather than its usual proximate warfare, supply armaments to certain factions in Ukraine.

The whole business seems pretty murky and shrill propaganda won’t allow matters to settle enough for any party to gain their bearings. Naturally, this announcement is also an overture to the broader coalition of the West to join in, willingly or not. I cannot think of an instance, at least during the American Century, when arming terrorists/unionists/rebels/freedom-fighters (depending on one’s point of view) has ever served to calm the fighting and did not escalate the violence. Arguably, US support for al Qaeda bankrupted the Soviet Union and ushered in Glasnost and Perestroika, but of course that backing had unintended consequences, whose inheritors are at the war’s other front. I don’t pretend to know what course to take, even if there wasn’t the little strip-tease of opposing world-views, but I do know in many instance no action is wiser and not at all the same as inaction, much more in line with the popular peace we’ve consented to. There’s a real danger in conflating the belligerents, and distinctions will be lost while circling one’s wagons, forgetting that one faction is looking for the barest sign of provocation and the other already has every justification it needs.