Friday, 31 December 2010

em-mex-l oder silvester

A very good and auspicious beginning to the New Year.  This pipe-cleaner chim- ney-sweep with his ladder and lucky mushroom is one of the German symbols of the changing of the calendar, like Father Time and Baby New Year, and a few other unique traditions and rituals are explained here via the local.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

a la mash

Some time ago, I was hounding around on some celebrity gossip site and saw a movie poster for the most outstanding cinematic vision that I had seen recently: deadly, big-game hunting aliens visit rural England during Jane Austen's time, and the film was titled Pride and Predator.  I have no idea whether it was ever actually produced or what the critical reception of it was or whether it was just a brilliant steam-punk concept, and would rather remain ignorant.
Something a bridge further than parody or a tribute band, it is a fusion that is more creative than its constituent influences, fun, rollicking mash-ups--authorized or otherwise, have produced, not just repackaged, some outstanding vignettes:  The Beestles (Beastie Boys versus the Beetles), Brokeback to the Future, the Grey Album.  Classic board games, I think, would be excellent and rich fodder for mash-ups, and could be made to honour whatever character universe one wished, like Doctor Who Cluedo--it was K-9 in the Tardis with the Sonic Screwdriver, or backgammon-Jenga.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

three French hens and twelve lords a-leaping

Christmas time can be a bit overwhelming and adjunct and accessory commem-orations are sometimes overshadowed, especially when they fall after the tension and subsequent relaxation of Noel and between the less demanding workshopping for New Year's. The Feast Day of the Holy Innocents is one such celebration--observed in many places with many regional variants. Though elided over, but not forgotten, this holiday, marked with pranks like April Fools' Day in some countries, has some very sage and sensible traditional admonishments: one that it is not auspicious to begin new projects on the day of the week that the Feast Day falls on (a year of Tuesdays, for instance) for the coming year, and two, further, to avoid engaging in work, barring emergencies, whenever possible also on that day of the week, progressing on to the next day of the week next year and on through the weekend.

honored matres or overseas telegram

A local research and development firm in Minnesota is promoting wireless internet via strobe-light and is installing the modem-based systems that works off of the same principle as Morse code: ceiling lights flicker on and off faster than the human eye can detect (though I imagine there might be subliminal residuum) transmitting signals--internet content, to a counterpart modem connected to a computer that can interpret these subtle oscillations. The company seemed to primarily take on this experiment in municipal office buildings in order to find a solution to diminishing band-width as WiFi, Bluetooth, cellular phones, G4 and VLAN compete for space above the general din--and also to create dual-use lighting elements for public spaces, which are always on away way, to provide connectivity without additional power consumption.
Moreover, I believe it is important that technology drifts away from WiFi and "electro-smog" in general. There's not so much discussion anymore about the dangers of cell phone usage and cell towers muddling-up honey bee navigation systems, however, wireless internet is even less tried and proofed, and I cannot imagine it is exactly beneficial to have trillions of bits of data tunneling through one's body from all sides at all times. Central to the Dune series of novels by science-fiction writer Frank Herbert, was the prohibition against "thinking-machines." Though hardly luddites, humankind had to revolt against artificial intelligences in order to save themselves, and maybe in the future, there will be a similar effort to outlaw all things wireless once ill-effects are realized and cultivate such smarter alternatives.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

port of call

Though living in Germany for many years, I cannot recall a holiday season when we were visited with such unrelenting, top-quality snow.  It keeps coming down, occupying all available real estate, and turns seeing family and friends into a challenge, but one that we have been able to meet with success.  There is no definitive answer why we are awarded with a second Christmas (2. Weihnachten) to celebrate, but it seems that the day is reserved for travel and alternately recognizing good service, since domestics and renters usually had to work on Christmas for their lords and ladies.  The denomination of "boxing" relates to this charity, alms-giving but my favourite account, besides the the Irish traditions, was of the Christmas boxes of the Golden Age of Exploration, a donation box, which priests installed on great ships while in berth preparing for the voyage.  Crewmates contributed coins to this box throughout their journey and presented it to the priest as thanks for a safe trip upon return during the next Christmas, who distributed the wealth among all his parishioners.  Of course, this business with money was not to be conducted on a high, holy day.  Adventures on the icy roads, where the wind curls and whips the loose snow like streams of plasma, and the sky is dark and heavy with successive storms, is a lot like navigating the high seas, and safe passage and return is something to be grateful for.

Friday, 24 December 2010

and the bells have flown to Rome

Merry Christmas, peace on Earth and goodwill toward all--and thanks to everyone for visiting our blog.  Seasons greetings!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

annus miribilis or choose your own adventure

The wire services have just released its annual review of most significant news stories for the past year.  Here are the top headlines, as pantomimed, by the classic stick figure samaritans and fabulists--all with quite thoughtful expressions, which one finds in the literature in the waiting rooms of school clinics, infirmaries and counselors' offices.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill and its terrible environmental legacy with the industry and consumer choices and policy that perpetuate these disasters.

The Health Care Reform initiatives in the US, that showed America's strange sort of envy at odds with the true aims of the effort.

US Mid-Term Elections and reversals of power, that was harrowing for what was sometimes characterised as a weary and disappointed electorate.

The US economy and world-wide economic crisis with the bailout and contributing factors that precipitated the collapse and wherein lies the blame and the lesson.

The devastating earthquake in Haiti and the recovery effort.

The popularity of the so-called "Tea Party" movement and its influences in US politics, part appeal to libertarianism and part to militantism.

The drama, tension, technological wonder and cooperation that led to the rescue of the trapped Chilean miners.

The US government leaking like a sieve in the most sensitive areas, call and response.

The ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the private toll war-making exacts.

word cloud

The Association for the German Language (GfdS, Gesellschaft fรผr deutsche Sprache) last week in Wiesbaden announced its superlative word for the year: Wutbรผrger (enraged citizen). This choice reflects the mobilization of many to call attention to various, serious causes during this past year--protest rallies in Germany and abroad, from anger over the Stuttgart 21 train station renovation, to raising tuition fees, to atomic energy, to genetically modified crops, to austerity measures cued by financial instabilities, to immigration, to the privacy and protection of personal data, and all shades of solidarity in between. The German language is more tolerant of nonce words--and does not emphasize the novelty of the neologism as much, when appropriate to string a daisy chain of words along into a compound meaning. Wut, however, can also connote rabid--whereas, not all causes being equal, many of these protesters, I think they deserve to be called Mutbรผrger, brave citizen.

making a list, checking it twice

Brilliant artist Ape Lad imagines that the next cable dump would be the ultimate disclosure of Santa's exhaustive annual performance appraisals, and shares his vision with Boing Boing, which is hosting a lot of excellent, on-going discussions on the topic and reporting from fresh angles.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

gitty up, jingle horse, pick up your feet

The weather, save for all the daily headaches and tension that it is creating for commuters and travelers, is really remarkable and feels like a good and proper winter, as compared to years' past when the cold and annoyance came late. Routines are more chaotic and treacherous and spoiled plans can take on the taste of sour grapes, but for all that, an over-abundance of snow and ice should not give people license to humbug global warming and environmental initiatives.

Global warming is an unfortunate misnomer, pars pro toto, that has stuck, but broader climate change can embrace both hot and parched and frozen. The expected milder and rainy weather in the British Isles and Central Europe are sustained by the Atlantic Gulf Stream's or any other body of water's alternating current, which exchanges warm equatorial waters for colder arctic ones. Some tinkering with this global machinery has equally global results: altering the salinity of bodies of water, like from fresh water formerly locked up in glaciers and icebergs, effects how well heat can be transported. Extending the idea of greenhouse gases to ideas as venerable and basic as the theory of colour, the gleaming whiteness of snow and ice reflect back some 90% of heat and light projected on their surfaces. Whereas, open ocean water, instead of iced-over or peopled with icebergs, a craggy, bald mountain, as opposed to a snow-capped summit, absorb up to 90% of the light and heat falling on them, warming up all their surroundings and making more surfaces to capture the heat. All this seems to cascade down, but it seems to suggest that a little influence in the opposite direction could also have a big effect--that's what can cause white snow to dazzle one's eyes, makes piles of it in parking lots linger and can enchant snowmen. It's what makes the season certainly memorable, these challenges, and scenic, and for all the cursing and frustrations, shivers and sickness, it should be nothing to put people in the spirit to question or long for ecological collapse.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

thrones & dominions or santa claus conquers the martians

My mother was sharing with me a documentary she watched recently that posited that Jesus was of extraterrestrial origin.  Imaginative and an idea to throw out there--it reminded me of the researchers who have suggested that those unaccounted-for years in the life of Jesus during his adolescence were spent on a pilgrimage to India (where the Wise Men were from) where he learnt the ways of the swamis and sages of the Far East and brought them back to Judea--I had no idea that there was such scholarship, speculation and a following attached to it.
My mother recommended that I write a gospel on the subject, which in actuality does not seem so far removed from the penchant of humans to model allegory and reinterpret meanings to fit what we are familiar with and what is needful--and not saying that the feats and miracles of Jesus were not enough or are no longer interesting and relevant with out some alien angle--but it seems that there's already an exhaustive amount out there: in addition to cleansing the sins of all of mankind, forever, it seems Jesus intervened to ensure that the Earth remained the domain of the Earthlings.  Comsic overloads seeded the primordial Earth with the genetic material that would eventual evolve in their image and cultivate a planet that would be one day suitable for their return.  Alien Jesus, however, fought for human liberation, and this historic enlightenment could be portrayed in several ways, depening on the sensibilities of the audience. 
Humans have not yet perfectly intergrated universal love and charity nor have they successfully displaced mortality, so it is not as if those Christian attributes and virtues are old hat, and though interesting and demonstrates that religious scholarship is a living entity, maybe it is a bit premature to reading the New Testament as a survival guide for preventing alien enslavement, though do not dismiss that possibility since it has always been a versatile and elastic document thus far.  Talking with my mother also made me remember visiting a Jesuit church that seems rather unassuming and conventional from the outside, but on the inside has this most fantastic and benign altar and adornments to Space Jesus and his Apostles.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather

Precipitation in the form of snow can be quite the contrarian for the weatherman. I suppose it seems to buck the forecast in part because it lingers and the upbuilding of the flurries, not like rain that's an event, welcome or unwelcome, that is mostly obligingly soaked up or siphoned off. Snow transfigures the landscape and the view from one's windows like quite nothing else, dark of night nor lushness of Spring in full bloom.
 It is quieting, calming with its insistence, mounting and enduring, that invites one to consider all the millions, billions of particles of it, flakes buffeted and flocked or bullet-like projectiles something more cardinal than a cloud suspended or the water of rain drops, and something that seems just a bit outside of nature's cycle.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Torquemada oder keiner erwartet die spanische Inquisition

It is remarkable how the disclosure of a few uncomfortable realities, suspending plausible deniability, can spark even more surrounding an unlikely target of vitriol and sympathy. Though this lowest form of McCarthyism is left in the public’s eye to judge but certainly not to prosecute regardless of opinion and colourfastness of the case, the current theatre is by far mild compared to the private, invisible punishment that the known informants are enduring, and considering all the wrath and ire it seems that this taunt, venture, duty would have been undertaken with more contingencies.

It might be preferable to remain an inmate in some Tower of London, or suspended in some legal limbo on a warrant with the force of the very same deficiencies and unscrupulous dealings and poor taste of statecraft revealed, rather than being extradited, disappeared to face all the dirty loopholes of law and sore egos. That there is little remaining, in terms of financial institutions, jurisprudence, that cannot be easily converted into extensions of US foreign policy is disturbing. At least one is more or less guaranteed a pulpit in certain venues. Maybe the threat or bluff to release more embarrassing dispatches was sufficient, though I bet a good portion of zealots, one way or another, would like to see those revelations cascade down for the opportunity to use their full quivers of weapons.

Monday, 13 December 2010

what can you do with a vuvuzela, what can you do with a vuvuzela, what can you do with a vuvuzela

Early in the morning?  It is not so remarkable how fads come and go but I think it is seldom that a musical instrument, the shofar, the octarimba, the orcana endears itself to international language only to be quickly forgotten and neglected.  I could never quite master the embouchure to get a good, steady sound, but it was fun to try.  Repeatedly.  Since this summer's World Cup, I am sure that they are all hidden away in cupboards, but maybe the vuvuzela could make a come-back--for New Year's, for instance. 

Sunday, 12 December 2010


Archeological researchers in the UK and the Czech Republic, and most archeological digging is done in the library or the mind, theorize that a large flood plain near the Fertile Crescent, now submerged in the shallows of the Persian Gulf since about eight thousand years, could have once supported an advanced Dreamtime civilization, whose ancient and half-remembered existence could be the stuff of legends, like Atlantis, and time before the biblical floods. Conventional wisdom holds that human progress is pretty much a closed-account, a straight trajectory from the Egyptians, to the Greeks, Romans through European enlightenment with the details still be worked out, but a lot of new discoveries, which were always there waiting to be noticed, suggests that the human world is much, much older and development has sometimes been retrograde.
The tribes of the remote Andaman Islands have been living in virtual isolation for the past sixty thousand years and probably represent one of the first migrations out of the African continent, and recent excavations in South Africa reveal a sophisticated coastal society using tools and agriculture possibly for some eighty thousand years, working metal tens of thousands of years before the process was supposedly invented in Europe. The lost civilization of the Persian Gulf could have also been highly advanced. Much can happen, unrecorded and with no recoverable trace, during these intervening ages and in the billions of unpeopled years before. Just coming to terms with the shrinking of the unexplored world and the implications of the scientifically-accepted age of the Earth and the universe, science-fiction writers of the Cthulhu mythos cycle invite readers to reconsider the prevailing arrogance that nothing much was happening in the meantime, except mechanical evolution. The world’s unimaginable age could accommodate the rise and fall of countless societies, in addition to the Sea Monkey Kingdom and the Utopia of the Dinosaurs. Not all the hidden places have been tilled and there may yet be a renaissance in exploration that is not led by how far or deep or close we can look.

Friday, 10 December 2010

advents calendar

Mentally preparing myself for the challenge of the snowy roads crunchy with ice--they are even colour-coded apparently but are not red or amber but decidedly white, I took the time to collect some of the infinite wonderful vignettes associated with Christmas--the Nativity scenes, suites of Nutcrackers, Santa Clauses and Snowmen without end, moose, reindeer, and the trees. 
Sometimes I feel that capturing the moment is not quite within photographic prowess, but decorating and the general background festoonery are great things, and the detail on mantle tops, showcased or otherwised shoe-horned into every free space is fantastic and brings the holidays into a brighter, sharper focus, like concerted dioramas every where one looks.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

sparkle, sparkle or the trouble with tribbles

I can hardly fathom the excitement circulating daily among star-gazers and astronomers as news comes daily of new, perceptive altering discoveries and researches agree that it is only a matter of time before extraterrestrial life is discovered just through brute force. Recently, scientists discovered a star shrouded by a halo of cubic zirconium clouds. This was something unexpected.

Based on spectral analysis and the distribution of elements observable in the solar system, no one anticipating the sort of concentration, which possibly questions a lot of the assumptions and speculations about the possible configurations of biology, most tend to be carbon chauvinists, as Carl Sagan put it. Of course, carbon chemically is a good basis because of its abundance and versatility and tautologies abound against a radical departure from the familiar configuration. It is fascinating to puzzle out, with valances and affinities, the feasibilities of hypothetical biochemistry. Given enough patience and true-believers, alien life will be found, and soon, I think, but it is prudent and an imaginative—necessary for shedding terrestrial prejudices—exercise to entertain reasons why life, in all its lushness and creativity, has not shown itself elsewhere. There are two classes to this, I think: the first relies on dangerous assumptions that alien life is immediately familiar and appreciable, that alien culture and technology are somehow analogues or extensions of our own. Such an alien race may be hiding or just plain hiding in plain sight, wary of showing itself for fear of how extraterrestrials fare in the majority of human cinema or over humans’ violent propensities. Maybe we have shown ourselves not as the sophisticated beings we like to think we are, such as during wars or holidays and other moments when it would be very hard to explain to the outside observer.
We do not really broadcast our intentions or culture too well these days, not the least of which, over dwindling radio signals, replaced by cell-towers and encryption that offer little for listeners across the galaxy. Since we stopped talking or pursuing outreach programs, maybe aliens think we are not around any longer. The second class requires us to expand our search and definitions: maybe aliens can only manifest themselves to us as a pleasant shade of blue and their technology to us is only abstract and accessible as a mild phobia or nut allergy. Maybe the aliens, or a certain subset since the variety must be immense, believe that automobiles are the dominant form of life on earth. Or maybe, looking at earth bombarded with solar radiation with just a pitiable gaseous atmosphere to protect it from solar radiation, others assume that our planet would not be a likely candidate to harbor life. When it does happen, and I think that the later is the more likely case, I just hope it happens in a way that vilifies all the writers of science fiction and those who dreamed a little.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

sacco & vanzetti

It is strange how prophesies can become self-fulfilling, and now I can imagine a recursive, almost play-by-play account of what present and future cables entail about destroying their arch-nemesis. It is remarkable how quickly the underlying infrastructure collaborated, folded in order to tow the party line.
Financial crises and failure of statecraft precipitated by America, full-disclosure theatre to counter terror-funds and if privacy is violated then we're sorry but it's the terrorists' fault, really, had already pushed institutions in Switzerland outside of their venerable comfort-zones of secrecy and did not want any additional trouble or scrutiny--never mind the track record of minding funds for any of history's despots, wanted or otherwise. It's the same with the wire- and hosting-services that have managed to monopolize the domain but will sell out at the first hint of controversy. That should make any one feel uneasy about the control ceded and entrusted to a few, unavoidable corporations and arrangements.  No one should stop talking about this, even as headlines fade or are trumped by the next sensational distraction or dwindling tolerance and attention--I think a few troglodites secured equal time over the threats to hold a very real book burning over the perceived threat of an inclusive community center.  It is not really their fault (nor pardon) that their clout cannot be spared because of their levels of exposure, but there should be alternatives in place in case of freezing, stopping movement and so the public can express solidarity and/or distaste--otherwise smug and self-interested activities become targets on one and all fronts.

Monday, 6 December 2010

coal in your stocking

There seems to be quite a bit of trafficking in back-handed compliments lately. The US Federal Communications Commission is floating a bill ostensibly promoting net-neutrality but is really a wolf in sheep's clothing, since its language gives the bureaucracy a substantial foothold in pushing regulations and standards. Aside from making muffling dissenters and broadcasters less bothersome for government censors, facilitating internet taxation, and requiring a license to tweet mirroring the government's own information assurance and non-refutability model, setting policy, like the creeping scourge of US monetary policy, extra-territorially. The internet is borderless and lawless but leverage can still be exercised, and such indirect and diverted influence is the only really the only arsenal that the crippled dollar can afford. The untold billions that America has underwritten through the International Monetary Fund, despite the yielding value of the currency and threats of inflation, to bolster the European Union is more shaky scaffolding, increasing dependence on the continued shared economical delusion. If the IMF conducted itself more becomingly in First World nations, as opposed to opportunistic and predatory ventures, why should Ireland have put up so much resistance to easy credit? Maybe there are not nascent military dictatorships to prop-up in Dublin or desalinization plants to push, but there are certainly chances to pout over failures to act in alignment with free-market traders, cooperation over environmental protection, policy cheerleading and centralized blacklisting, or the world-internet police. Let us hope that some key players have a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future this year.

Friday, 3 December 2010

life in mono or arsenic and old lace

Though sometimes the space agency indulges the media with rampant speculation and Christmas morning excitement and anticipation, and though no evidence of extraterrestrial life was proffered, NASA's press conference did manage to deliver some outstanding news that redefines not only the way we look at life on earth but also in the search for alien life and prime stellar real estate. Bacteria in the alkaline incubator, Lake Mono in California, have evolved the ability to substitute toxic arsenic for phosphorus, heretofore considered one of the elements essential for basic biological chemistry, along with oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen. This discovery makes novelty and resourcefulness of life less familiar and less self-centered and opens up great avenues for exploration, dispelling some old assumptions that could hinder the search with blinders and overly selective criteria. NASA's research is a pleasant surprise, following on the heels of an astronomical false tenet disabused earlier this week, that rewarded us with countless more stars in the sky.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

heat miser

Most US federal workers are handsomely compensated as it is, mostly for keeping-up-appearances. Part of the out-of-date and out-of-touch rationale, historically for around two percent annually, awarded at the beginning of the year, was as a retention bonus to compensate for the difference between public- and private-sector salaries, ad infinitum--which does not make much sense because there are few real corollaries.

Following the example of US state and local governments, the federal government has decided to freeze the pay of its civilian workforce, with notable exceptions, in a cosmetic gesture of solidarity to unbalanced budgets and as a concession to a divided legislature. While not arguing for another entitlement or casting aspersions towards civil servants that have been furloughed or had their salaries cut, this is squandered political capital, since nominal fiscal savings will go unnoticed as will any cross-party appeasement, and the only segment of the population that will take notice will do so in a negative way, because a few will suffer privately by diminishing their spending power by two percent or so (not to mention a proportional two percent into 401K plans, retirement accounts, income tax, etc. although most of that is just a shell game too) in exchange for only negligible public benefit. Efficiency and trimming expenses where quality and morale is not compromised is a virtue but feckless actions are disgruntling.