Sunday, 12 July 2020


From Nag on the Lake’s Sunday Links (always worth checking out and much more to explore), we are introduced to an innovative incubator called Donut Robotics that proposes to have our facial coverings pull double-duty with the addition of an internet-connected microphone and voice-box that will allow the wearer to translate their speech from Japanese into several other languages—or to make calls or simply turn up the volume to overcome any muffled words. In order for us to truly benefit from instantaneous exchanges and real-time interpretation—to really achieve universal translation, such programmes and neural networks need to be brought out into the wild and widely deployed—such as this start-up is suggesting and ultimately the sophistication and articulation of our personal protective gear might pull us all closer together as this crisis abates.

posse commutatus

In a further signalling of the end of the judicial branch as an independent, meaningful entity for the American polity, Donald Trump announced that he would commute the sentence of his long-time political operative and cartoon villain Roger Stone (previously)—who was convicted for obstruction of justice during a congressional inquiry into foreign meddling in the US electoral process—with Trump’s aside, a stage-whisper confirming that he ordered a cyberattack during the 2018 mid-terms against Russia’s Internet Research Agency, something which was probably not meant for public disclosure but nothing matters and Trump probably felt sharing this offensive maneuver justified freeing his dirty bag friends while undermining the justice system further.
These pro forma courts and show-trials are the underpinnings of a dictatorship and is not just establishing one set of rules for allies and another standard for opponents, but is moreover making law and enforcement arbitrary and subject to petty whims and flattery, not what legal standards are meant to be at all in a functioning and robust society.  While this pardoning does not vacate Stone’s conviction or vindicate his behaviour, it does mean that he will spend no time in prison—ostensibly a dangerous place for one of an advanced age with COVID-19 ravishing the inmate population, though it’s perfectly safe for children to return to schools for the academic year in the fall with no plans in place to make the institutions safe for students. The commissioner really needs to flash the Bat Signal right now.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

bailey and bergfried

Though this castle built on a rocky spur (Spornburg) dominating an adjacent valley of the Moselle, a tributary called the Ehrbach, that we visited on the way home had the feeling of an empty playground for adults the Ehrenburg was quite unexpectedly spectacular and has a rich, well connected history dating back to at least the twelfth century.
In part conserved through all the tumult by its first documented mention in a deed by Barbarossa referred to as a slighting (Schleifung), that is the intentional damage to a high profile property to reduce its strategic value—
probably not making the castle worth the taking as it would have been a liability to defend. In this milieu, the castle, a baronet, was involved with territorial feuds among the knightly gentry and the Church for control of trade and taxes, forming an alliance against Trier and Luxembourg with Eltz and other occupied castles in the area, finally surrendering claim on the castle with the extinction of the family line after a conflict with the Koblenz erupted and brought in those new disruptive inventions of gunpowder and the canon in the fifteenth century, making Ehrenburg less tenable.In normal times, the venue outside of the town of Brodenbach is host to many cultural events and medieval re-enactments.

Friday, 10 July 2020

unter dem burgen

The site of our last night of camping along the Moselle, guarded by a host of more manky swans, was in a village called Burgen beneath its namesake ensemble of a chapel and eleventh century fortification, Bischofstein, on the west bank of the river perched on a steep mountainside—though folk hagiographies place the castle back to a legendary time some six hundred years prior as the palace of Bishop Nicetius of Trier in the times of the Merovingian court (as opposed to the stronghold of the archbishops of Treves as it is believed historically to be) as a bulwark to protect trade and traffic in the region.
It was destroyed and rebuilt at least twice and exchanged hands many, many times—most recently to a business magnate from Darmstadt as a summer home and was purchased in 1930 (granted protection status as an example of interior design of that decade rather than as an eight-hundred year old castle) with refurbishment beginning then but was never occupied, the castle seeing incarnations as a sanatorium for returning soldiers and then as a safehouse for refugees. In the mid-1950s, it was purchased by the alumni association of a prestigious gymnasium in Krefeld, near Düsseldorf, as a retreat for students and a place to hold their class reunions and host other events. The tower’s white ring are the remnants of a plaster coating all but washed away by centuries of weathering, but local lore has all sorts of explanations, including that it indicates the high water mark for a particularly catastrophic flood.

itineris mosellæ or pilgrims in an unholy land

With trade and occupation lasting the duration of the late Empire, Roman culture left its imprint on the region including excavations of ancient wineries, the foundations of workshops and the remnants of defensive and civil engineering, a network of roads still trod to this day and the occasional tomb, like this pair of Römergräber perched above the vineyards of the village of Nehren (Villa Nogeria, a stylised version of the reconstructed graves are community’s coat of arms).
Prior to know- ing what the struc- tures were, the “heathen mounds” (see also here and here) were used as shelter from the elements for growers tending the grapes and memorials such as were often erected along trafficked areas so the departed would be remembered and carried with the living.
Afterwards, we returned to the city of Mayen and took in the spectacle of Schloss Bürresheim—another one of the few intact structures of this area and if it seems familiar, due to its well-preserved status it has made several cameo appearances in film, including the exterior, establishing shots of the fictional Schloss Brunwald where Doctor Jones and son are held captive in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Also a house divided and on the border between different land holdings, Bürresheim, taking its present appearance in the fifteenth century, was probably again preserved by dint of its joint ownership

Thursday, 9 July 2020

belau rekid

Though human settlement on the group of islands extends back millennia, Palau (see previously) is a young republic, observing annually its founding on this day since 1981 with Constitution Day, the referendum voting for independence for this former US territory after most Pacific islands fell under the administration of America as Trust Territories, having previously been a Spanish colony governed from the Philippines, administered as German New Guinea, then becoming part of the Japanese-ruled League of Nations’ South Seas Mandate, choosing not to join Micronesia, an association compromised of recently decolonised neighbours. Modelled in part of the US constitution, Palau’s uniquely prohibits all atomic applications, be it for warfare as a testing-site or for energy-generation as a dumping-ground for nuclear waste—as well as specifically banning biological and chemical weapons.

in der römerischer weinstraße

Our penultimate overnight stop brought us to the Central Moselle (Mittelmosel) community of Trittenheim—this like most other steep vineyards advertising their local vintners and varietals in big white letters like the Hollywood sign, championed by a village Wine Queen (Weinkönigin) selected by a jury of past title holders and restauranteurs.
In 1999, however no suitable candidate could be found and the judges instead elected the first (and quite possibly sole exception but we’d like to think that such pageants are a bit more enlightened—a few years ago the Moselle named their first royal industry representative who was a Syrian refugee) Wine King in master mechanic, philanthropist, entertainer and developmental chieftain (Ngoryifia) Céphas Kosi Bansah of the Ewe people of the Hohoe region of Ghana.
Having come to Germany as part of a student exchange programme, Bansah stayed on and was invested with this honourific political office, realising that he was able to govern remotely and could achieve more education and outreach for his people in Germany, improving infrastructure and schools dramatically through his celebrityand his talent for networking. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

kilian and his companions colmán and totnan

Martyred on this day according to tradition along with two of his associates for reproaching the Count, Hedan II of Thüringen, that his marriage to his brother’s widow was against Church doctrine and therefore would not be considered legitimate—angering the bride-to-be Geliana to the point where, in Hedan’s absence, she summoned this meddlesome priest, called
Apostle to the Franconians having sojourned from his native Ireland, and company to the market square of the city of Würzburg (see previously here, here, here and here) in 689. Three years prior, Kilian travelled from County Kerry to Rome to receive missionary instructions from Pope Conon, who dispatched his troupe to East Francia to convert Duke Gozbert and his subjects, whom still practised pagan rituals.