Friday, 31 October 2014

triage or medicopter 110

An engineering student in Delft has designed a prototype that puts unmanned aerial technology to beneficial use with an ambulance drone. His proposal and pitch is presented really well and this ingeniously simple rescue concept could have real life-saving impact and evolve in unforeseen directions—though it’s already clever enough to make me think it would be a wise investment to supplement emergency response teams with flying familiars. The drones could be dispatched or even summoned by a call to the hospital, zeroing in on the caller’s cellular coordinates, and deliver a defibrillator, respirator or other equipment to the trauma victim.
Video and audio capabilities could make for quicker assessments and provide instructions to good Samaritans already on the scene until paramedics could arrive. Maneuvering technology needs to be perfected before it could operate safely in an urban environment—where traffic snarls squander vital moments but such a system would also benefit patients in remote locations, like mountain tops and isolated after natural disasters—or even to places deemed too dangerous for immediate human outreach.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

energie-wende oder junck bonds

Lately, the press regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership treaty has mostly been lately either smug resignation to the inevitable or nebulous fears that come across a bit feeble and embarrassing for the agreement’s opposition.
Naked Capitalism, however, delivers an accessible and literate summary of the arguments and developments that are coinciding with Germany turning sour on the whole deal with America with its perceptions and understanding of what’s at stake matured and appropriately jaded. Aside from the mutual watering-down of environmental- and labour-regulations and other concerns, there is more over the clear potential for corruption with revolving-door commissars and “judges” to act as the court of last appeal in disputes between member states and businesses. It is this last point that is focusing Germany’s awareness—what with the German government already at the mercy of the trade courts and one foreign energy concern’s self-interests over the country’s resolution to wean itself away from nuclear power. Germany faces reparations for losses the company will incur due to this decision—and the company’s right to seek compensation for its investors is already enshrined in legislation that could override a stand taken by the state. Settlement was eventually reached without invoking arbitration—which is a very Byzantine process by design—but if the legal framework is unraveled and corporate bullying is made easier and pushed out of view, it is not hard to imagine that Germany’s energy-reform could have taken a very different trajectory.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

die partei oder a modest proposal

I missed the winning campaign over the summer for a seat on the European Union parliament, but the German and Austrian editions of The Local present a comprehensive and funny retrospective of Martin Sonneborn’s first few months in office.  The sometimes poisonously controversal satirist and former editor of the Germany’s national lampoon magazine, Titantic—much like The Onion, and regular contributor the Der Spiegel’s humour column formed die Partei (the Party) as a joke back into 2004, and since then the comedian’s platform and the voting public eventual presented candidate Martin with a mandate. If nothing else, I am sure that the experience is providing material for years to come.

susie keane’s puppeteens

Via the fantastic Nag-on-the-Lake, reporting for The Guardian, the enquiring Jon Ronson writes how Tim Burton will direct a film about the lives and times of the artists (the true and the plagiarist) behind those insanely popular paintings of slightly forlorn, treacly waifish sad, big eyed children—usually pictured holding equally puppy-eyed familiars. The bio-pic—slated for release in December—was first conceived four years ago and looks to be a pretty fascinating story—with Margaret, the wife of the showman and fraud Walter Keane, getting no credit for her work, based off the marionettes that she designed to teach French to her daughter Susan.  The ruse went on for a decade and spanned the art capitals of Europe and with plenty of celebrity patronage.   We never had any of Keane’s art at home but I certainly do remember seeing some in passing growing up.  Who knew that there was more behind their creation? 

it happened on the way to the forum: off the reservation or roman gothic

H and I took advantage of a nice afternoon to take a stroll around our second-city of Wiesbaden. As we walked around the Kurpark, we thought about the Roman influence that is nearly forgotten jenseits the Rhine. Few obvious relics remain and though somewhat an idyll—like the trend, the conceit during Victorian times for English villages to Latinise their names, c.f., Weston-super-Mare rather than Weston-upon-the-Sea of Faulty Towers fame—this settlement did original appear on the map with the designation Aquis Mattiacis (Aquae Mattiacorum), by the Waters of the Mattiacæ, a branch tribe of the Germanic Chatti. The remote settlement, now known Spa-in-the-Meadows, within the defensible footprint of the larger fortifications of Mainz (Mogontiacum) just across the Rhein, did also gain renown for its thermal springs that were a source of pigment that Roman women, as was the fashion, could use to dye their hair red. These artfully arranged ruins are not Roman but remnants of the construction of the nearby opera house, and the interior of the casino is modeled with the grand opulence of a Roman bath house.
A true archeological leftover remains, however, in the form of the so-called Heidenmauer (ironically, the Heathens' Wall) which is the preserved part of a Roman-era aqueduct commissioned under the reign of Valens after he and his brother and co-emperor Valentinian finally some made gains on this frontier, the Limes Germanicus.
This headway in Germany by the Emperor of the West, however, was obscured by a more fateful entreaty and the way it was carried out on another distant fluvial border. A Gothic tribe pleaded with Rome to be allowed to ford the Danube in the Balkans and seek refuge from an even greater peril, the marauding Huns, which the Western Empire would not even survive to face. There was no Gothic invasion of Rome, but rather a horrible and snowballing misstep taken by abandoning established safeguards and protocols.
For centuries, Rome had been integrating barbarian refugees, transforming former enemies into citizens and soldiers, with carefully constructed plans for avoiding diaspora through redistribution, resettlement and conscription against common enemies—the Romans were also not above simply buying loyalty with bribes and pay-offs. But with attention vested in internal revolts and problems in the East, Rome bypassed the usual measures and empanelled the influx of Goths, primarily the Thervingii and the Greutungii under the leadership of Alavivus and Fritigern, to refugee camps with very austere conditions. The still-banded tribes reached the breaking point after chieftains were invited to a reconciliatory banquet and then held hostage and the starving people were offered grain in exchange for selling their offspring into slavery.
 A united Gothic people claimed the run of the Empire’s countryside but were unable to raid walled and fortified cities, lacking the resources and experience. The Eastern Emperor, Valens, finally had had enough of this nuisance, just at the gates, and took a stand on the fields of Adrianople (Edirne in Turkey). With superior fighting strength, however, the Gothic forces successfully routed the Romans, killing many key military figures and the Eastern Emperor himself and captured the city, which proved to be a gateway to controlling all of Thrace.

Peace proved even more costly to the Empire, with a settlement reached that essential established an autonomous Gothic kingdom within Roman territory. Though the Goths were temporarily pacified, external pressure set by this new precedent did not go unnoticed by all parties involved, a demoralized Rome, an emboldened bunch of barbarians—including the relatively tame and reliable Germanic tribes, and it did not take long for the Empire in the West to fracture into many such independent enclaves. The evidence left in Wiesbaden seems to invoke more tranquil times for Rome.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

we are a culture, not a costume

As debates rage about the efficacy and ethics of quarantine for the sake of public and private health in this atmosphere of Fearbola, Atlas Obscura presents an interesting short history on the phenomena.
Not forgetting or diminishing the real and immediate suffering of individuals in the so called hot-zones and those without the luxury of protesting their confinement in abstract terms, this is turning out to be a potentially very frightening time of year, in keeping with the season—what with imaginations enervated with notions of zombies on the march and a weird kind of vampirism with a sanguine obsession over certain blood-types as a rescue-cure. The American military personnel helping to construct needed health care facilities will be isolated for at least three weeks in an army hospital in Vicenza—which is not far from the lagoon of Venice, whose islands (a few of them) had served as rather ghastly lazarettoes (way-stations common during times of plague for sailors to wait out the incubation time without endangering the local population, named after the parable of Lazarus) or cordon sanitaires in the not too distant past. What do you think about all this hysteria and working oneself into a frenzy?

Monday, 27 October 2014

minimalist phillumenist

Collectors’ Weekly curates a fantastic gallery of one phillumenist’s (a collector of matchbooks) passion for the minimal artwork featured on matchbooks from all around the world. The ephemeral often feature advertising for a specific night club, bar or hotel but there are also plenty of little evocative and endlessly efficient canvases touting vacation destinations, big events, local colour, safety awareness and public service. Browse through the exhibition and be sure to visit the collector’s private retrospective at the link.



Without the fanfare and budgetary excesses associated with corporate sponsorship, a computer-scientist (though himself a vice-president at one of the world’s largest companies), having planned his dive in secret, was carried aloft a few days ago in a balloon of his own design from an abandoned airfield in Roswell, New Mexico (it was probably easier to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission) and jumped some forty kilometers back to earth. It’s too bad that dare-devil stunts are the ones to hog the stage—to ham it up, even, even if not the carefully, thoughfully executed record-breakers and the feat of this gentleman passes without due recognition.

phylogenetic or langue et parole

Via the ever-engrossing Mental Floss comes an beautifully illustrated diagram that charts the development and relationships of Old World languages by Minna Sundberg. A graphic artist Ana a story-teller by trade, Sundberg also applies her craft to linguistic and other academic interests. The style of her art, this tree in particular, and curiosity remind me a bit of JRR Tolkien. Check out more of Sundberg’s work at the link to her blog.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

ultima thule or récit

At one of those book exchange kiosks, one of those in the wilds that is the natural habitat of literature, I discovered the author Paul Auster through his work entitled The New York Trilogy. Though some of the aspects of his writing remind me of a few of his contemporaries that are also counted among my favouries, like Thomas Pynchon, Umberto Eco and Don DeLillo, but in this series of noir, hard-scrabble detective stories that broach existential mysteries there is a subtle philosophical injunction that is a sort of anti-story-telling. Not meaning that his characters are not vivid or inhuman or that there is no plot to follow, but a lot of the narrative comes through allusion and the real events that transpire are the allegories of monologue. The failings and missteps of the characters are not hamartia, tragic flaws, but rather a deconstructing, I think, like trying to look past the mental language of perceptions and prejudices at the world and oneself independent of a particular framework.
There’s also a theme of isolation—but the mood is not one of loneliness or ostracising but maybe another aspect of the failure that’s understood to be dismantling—highlighted in meta-references and evocative footnotes. Using the fable of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum as a point of departure (incidentally, everyone always expected the Spanish Inquisition, since they always announced their purges with a thirty day grace period), Auster relates the true tale of intrepid Danish explorer Peter Freuchen and his harrowing experience weathering a blizzard in Greenland. Freuchen had buried himself in an ice cave for shelter and though he was worry about the pack of wolves sniffing around above ground, his more immediate concern was that his igloo, his universe was slowly shrinking around him. With each breath, the ice walls grew thinker by a hair’s breadth, threatening to enclose him fully. Freuchen, however like Auster’s characters, lived to tell the tale. I am looking forward to reading more of his works.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


In his closing remarks to the bishops assembled for the Extraordinary Papal Synod (as opposed to Ordinary, regularly-scheduled ones, convened to address a particular topic), the Pope expressed that “God is not afraid of change,” which is a pretty remarkable thing to think about and probably a most original thought never before formulated out loud.
Though conservative elements in the Church expressed reservations for reconciliation and outreach to the gay and divorced members of the congregation, but it is no cause for despair as the Pope invited dialogue and a willingness came through—possibly to be readdressed in a conference to follow, and not only the willfulness that the Pope also eloquently warned about as the “temptations of inflexibility” and those with the insufferable wish to be do-gooders, which is another kind of danger.  The Pope, I think, is not trying to undo doctrine or expecting teachings and values to come unknotted in accord to the fashion of the day, but rather remove those barriers that we’ve imposed ourselves that stand in way of sympathy and respect.

it happened on the way to the forum: christogram or eastern-pivot

Born into the power-sharing arrangement that Diocletian established and the attendant civil wars that erupted across the Empire whenever one leader sought to recall the devolved governance, which even Diocletian witnessed in his retirement in Dalmatia—his careful planning collapsing despite his gracious bowing-out—though refusing entries to return and put an end to the in-fighting and poisonous ambition for more than a good regional share of the world, Constantine the Great, fore-father of the Holy Roman and Byzantine Empires and revered as a saint in the Eastern tradition is a character of indubitable significance but forever escaping true comprehension.
Stripping away every other accomp- lishment and monument and joining him at the beginnings of his career, Constantine was a regional leader, an Augustus with his power-base centred in Trier. Dissatisfied only holding imperium over the Germania and Gaul, Constantine also tried to consolidate his holdings, launching offensives against his imperial colleagues. Whether his campaigns were carefully calculated in the name of self-interest or as a defender of the faith is a matter of much debate and ultimately the answer is something as private and inaccessible as belief and credulity. Perhaps recognising the political capital vested within the growing Christian population was more valuable that simply using these vaguely treasonous up-standing citizens as convenient scapegoats or perhaps out of genuine concern to stop the persecutions, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan that legitimised Christianity and banned their mistreatment—which effectively undid the terror visited on the community by Diocletian—the torture, the marginalising, the confiscation of property.
Constantine also famously raised campaigns against these pretenders but not exactly under the ægis of the Cross and rather by a vision communicated to him to him that his troops ought to bear the sign Chi-Rho (the Greek ligature of the letters Χ and Ρ, ☧, which appeared as marginalia short-hand and the equivalent of Latin NB, nota bene—good or important, long before it was understood as a monogram of Jesus), who were proponents for the return of Christian oppression. Whether their advocacy was rooted in slighted patrons, pagans that were remiss to have their abated riches taken back, or out of genuine devotion to the elder pantheon, Constantine's co-emperors were felled. Either out of a preponderance of caution or a demurring sense of being non-committal, however, the Triumphal Arch erected to immoralise his conquests bore no mention of the High God of the Christians and there was little talk of Christ and God, yet. Constantine’s sainted mother, Helen, was dispatched on a long good-will tour, making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a large entourage and collecting a lot of relics along the way. Mother and son commissioned the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the original St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, on the spot where the apostle was martyred. Despite his building initiatives which included many public facilities and infrastructure projects aside from the churches, Constantine remained rather silent on the matter of faith and proselytising but was always troubled by the squabbling within the hierarchy of the emerging Church.
Seemingly wanting to present a united front rather than risk a tradition that would plunge just as easily into sectarianism, Constantine began to directly engage doctrinal controversies. First, there was emergent issue of what to do about the Christians who had been pragmatic during the purges and obliged by making sacrifices to the pagan gods in order to escape punishment, and then there was the matter of the Arian schism (named for the priest, Arius of Alexandria) concerning the nature of Christ—whether He, as begotten, could still be considered divine or whether the Trinity was just different aspects of the self-same God. Constantine seemed to think that this was a rather petty question and certainly not worth excommunication and disunity. To let the opposing schools of thought finally hash out their differences, Constantine called together a meeting of the bishops and although the winning side and compromised reached was not exactly the outcome that the Emperor was backing—and Constantine could of course been more dictatorial as Pontifex Maximus had he wanted and just decided matters for himself—he respected the group’s decision. A bit naïve about Church politics and the volatility of opposing camps in matters of faith with the Arianists and non-Arianists certainty did not feeling that their squabble was trivial, Constantine was quite nonplussed that once debate was over, the two sides did not come together and all disagreements did not suddenly evaporate. So to try to settle matters once and for all, the Emperor called for a bigger council that represented a much broader swath of the faithful and convened the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, with bishops from all across the known world. Over the weeks, the nature of the Son of God was fixed—though as an even more confusing answer than the question posed, the calculus for determining the dates of moveable feasts like Eastertide, who was eligible for baptisms, and a host of other questions. With the matter appearing tidily resolved, Constantine could embark on other matters of state, including creating for himself a new capital. The City of Rome itself know abandoned as a sort centre emeritus, and all other metropolitan candidates, like Milan or Trier or Salona, fell short in one way or another. Constantine therefore decided to build up a fishing village on the Bosporus, styling it New Rome.
That name never caught on and the great capital was referred to as Constantinople (the city of Constantine) and ultimately İstanbul, derived from the accusative case of “the City.” Constantine did some momentous things during a career that spanned three decades and founding institutions that would go on shaping the world forever more, but the genuineness of his belief, and Whom exactly was his champion, remains mysterious. His ambitions and general deportment—including executing his wife and son for the sake of inheritance—was not very Christian, plus after all those efforts at reform and elevating the religion, Constantine himself was seemingly a death-bed convert, albeit that it was an efficient use of a baptismal since it is cumulative and the dying Emperor did not get the chance to commit any more egregious acts afterwards. Some blame the spread of Christianity for the downfall of the Empire and by extension, civilisation, and say the Church only saved the most Byzantine and corruptible elements of Roman bureaucracy. The great Emperor also had his failings, including monetary reform that pared away inflation but only benefited the wealthy and created class disparity with little mobility, poor succession-planning that led to the resumption of the civil wars that engulfed the Empire, a rift in the Church that only expanded in manifold ways, and a senseless war with Persia—ostensibly to protect the Christian population of Armenia, that benefited no one as one of his last official acts. Whatever the fundamental motivations—and this is an important question, the so-called Donation of Constantine is all around us to this day.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

leaps and bounds

Æon Magazine shares an interesting thought on robotics and mobility, pondering whether advances in controlling servos and springs might not lead to changes in human travel, making wheels and roadways obsolete. I personally would very much to don some exoskeleton that would enable me to run and work—or just be seated while a carriage-and-four negotiates the traffic and natural landscape while the roads are reclaimed by Nature. What do you think? Will it be a shock to future generations that humans were allowed to pilot wheeled-vehicles on endless stretches of highways?

urban-outline or shadowboxing

In a piece entitled The Civic Minimum BLDGBlog features the photographic safari of Chris Clarke through a haunting nook of a suburb on the edges of London.

This bleak, mock landscape was commissioned by the Ministry of Defense for paramilitary and police training for urban warfare—and stands strangely deserted outside of exercises. The course, which contains all of the idylls that idealistic city-planners can summon up—with all the traditional necessities and a small town, Main Street/High Street look that is increasingly crowded out by property-management agents—makes me think of those exterior-shots for a sitcom household or the flats of Wild West towns built up by Hollywood, but I cannot image that peopled this training-ground would lose its eerie aura. How effective are such scenarios when zoning and economics no longer favour such models?

two-bit, four-bit

The winning design team for the upcoming series of Norway's paper currency features pixelated reflections on the observe of the natural wonders that appear on the face of kroner. It strikes me that the Nordic countries have gone mostly cashless—including a mechanism to donate electronically to the basket as it is passed down the pews at church—and successfully branding each bill with a bar-code (to prevent counterfeiting and to usher in a form of electronic transaction) accessible to any retailer and financial institution without the associated fear of knowing the chain of possession. I do rather like the designs and have no issue with reducing lag-time, however, being old-fashioned, I like to sequester my allowance and have a few coins left over to plonk into savings myself.

i'm fantastic, made of plastic

Over death threats against the artist, an exhibit entitled Barbie: Plastic Religion to be held in Buenas Ares was called-off. The packaged dolls do not come across to me as a lampoon or necessarily sacrilegious and rather than being aimed as what we hold sacred but rather offers a much more uncomfortable critique of the worshipful, whom can be selective about what their icons, avatars stand for and can pick and choose from their several virtues. The majority of the figures have a Catholic theme, with Joan of Arc and quite a few Marian apparitions—however there is also Buddha Ken and Staci as Kali the Destroyer.

Friday, 10 October 2014

czy wiesz?

Later this month, a monument (EN/DE) will be dedicated in Poland to the collaborative philosophy behind the online lexicon Wikipedia. The sculpture will be unveiled in Słubice on a university campus, and was commissioned after a suggestion by one of the professors. It is fitting that the first tribute to the pervasive and unfettered resource be raised up here, as the city borders Germany, just across the Oder River from Frankfurt, and these two populations are among the most avid and active contributors to Wikipedia in Europe.

b is for bruxelles—that's good enough for me

Philosopher Philippe van Parijs presents a rather brilliant lesson in the post-war history and civics that led—indecisively, to Brussels (Brussel, Bruxelles) becoming if not the de facto but customary capital of the European Union. Though the Belgian capital city had the support of the Western European powers, the nation was itself unwilling to accept that yoke, rallying for its own domestic seat of industry, the ancient town of Liège, as the union was constituted back in 1952 was focused on the efficient use of Europe's raw materials and iron and coal resources for rebuilding and remediation.
After much consternation, the political organs of the West became the journeyman body-politic that has endured to the present day, the court migrating from Strasbourg (with sufficient office space) to Luxembourg (an alternative to Paris, which only the French viewed as a natural consequence and the obvious choice), and ultimately to Belgium, too, and points further depending on its charge. It is strange how natural endowments became the stuff of toy kingdoms and the restoration of old boundaries. Liège never stood as a candidate as the Walloon population rejected the return of their exiled monarch, while the rest of Belgium was for it. Support evaporated as violence arose in Belgium, in response to the restoration of the king. In the turmoil, however, when no decision could reached, Belgium due to alphabetical order, gained order of precedence: Aachen was disqualified out of hand as German, as was Amsterdam as too much of a logistically accomodating challenge, as were others in the founding coalition of six. Brussels, realising that this indecision was likely to continue as commission powers expanded, acquired more and more viable space for the functionaries to meet, ultimately becoming the winter-quarters of this traveling greatest show on Earth, though the placement remains unofficial.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

normative or strangers with candy

Via the ever-excellent Kottke, here comes an fascinating anthropological and cultural safari on different styles of child-rearing from around the world, curated by blogger Joanna Goddard. In a series of installments, which while not exhaustively representative of the whole spectrum from Tiger to Helicopter found in any society, presents vignettes that are certainly not biased or western-centric that give pretty interesting insights to the attitudes and approach to parenting.
Some of my favourites include Sleep Camps in Australia, the practise of accepting treats from people on the street in Chile—which seems endearing, the way mothers and fathers in India will engage in reasoned dialectic discussions with their children, rather than stopping at No! or Because I said, and the lack of bedtimes in Turkey. Be sure to read the country profiles in full on A Cup of Jo.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

hashtag hastings

The gadfly Today I Found Out has a teasingly enticing brief about how the realms and domains—real estate—of Merry Old England has remained in essentially the same hands for nearly a thousand years, beginning with the Norman conquest of England. The landed-gentry have a very interesting history starting in October of 1066 when William II, Duke of Normandy recognised a crisis of succession and a power-vacuum that left the isle of the Anglo-Saxons vulnerable and invaded after the native rivals heralding from Denmark and Norway had tired each other out. The Normans themselves were not of French but rather of Viking extraction, invited by the Carolingian rulers some one hundred fifty years earlier to settle along the northern coast in exchange for allegiance and protection against other Norse clans marauding the seas.  This was an old Roman tactic, with many integrated tribes maintaining buffer zones across the Empire’s frontiers.
Over the intervening generation, Norman and English rulers became bound through a few strategic marriages, but Duke William II’s claim was not without contest. The conquest, cemented by the decisive Battle of Hastings, chiefly resulted in the displacement of the native English aristocracy for Norman elites but preserved other institutions and government structure—the peasant-class just knew that they were exchanging one master for another. Chattel slavery in the British Isles was abolished under William, which may have mustered popular local support, but that custom, though there were no longer raids and people delivered as property, was transmuted into other sorts of bondage, with feudalism and serfdom. Those classes of servitude incidentally do not behold lady and master to take care of said possession. The ousted English aristocrats staged a few uprisings but never again managed to regain a foothold in their homeland, though the population remained overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon with only a few thousand Norman settlers as overlords, meet the new boss—same as the old boss. Dispossessed, many of the former landowners fled to Ireland, the Nordic countries, and interestingly to Byzantium, where they joined the ranks of the elite Varangian Guard—akin to the Praetorians of the West, bodyguards to the Emperor. These events and cultural shifts are well documented in both the Domesday Book, a survey and census of all the households in this newly-acquired kingdom, and in the Bayeux Tapestry, the later of which H and I are excited to be visiting again soon, equipped with thoughts about the spread and advance of this society.

narc or g-men

Confronted with a novel and underhanded stratagem in America’s other endless war, the US Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency is defending its actions, which amount to the apotheosis of witness-protection. The government maintains that agencies have the right to impersonate suspected drug traffickers and cadets, using the photographs and data commandeered from any and all sources, and create a phony persona in order to lure unknown associates, since if one is accused of selling illicit drugs (this one instance covered happened before the case even went to trial) one automatically has forfeited one’s humanity and any identity would revert to the state. Not only is this the height of brutality and cowardice but it also puts the libeled stool pigeons at serious risk, in case one of the contacts trapped this way decide get revenge on the supposed betrayer.

ebola (a-licky boom boom down)

Despite the lack of a clearly defined plan to prevent more sporadic cases of Ebola occurring in Europe, there is an air of resignation that little can be done. While the Western, antiseptic world bears the guilt for not doing more to prevent the disease from becoming endemic and the real suffering and individual tragedies ought not be overshadowed by vague fears and pandering to something adjacent to godliness (something in which there’s always money), absent a direct onslaught on the inchoate epidemic, international passenger transportation should be severely curtailed.
Public health officials do not seem exactly forthcoming and are taking an apologetic, almost defensive stance for the airline industry—which would and will no doubt take a major hit, when the matter is finally forced. Screening passengers prior to departure is window-dressing at best and a farcical stab at prevention, considering that each flyer has a vested interest in avoiding detention or scrutiny. Those suspecting that they have the disease of course want to avail themselves to better treatment facilities in America or Europe and remove themselves from areas where Ebola is prevalent. They certainly do not want to be turned back or sent to a holding room for examination, undoubtedly full of sick people. Given the incubation time to become symptomatic and uncertainty (despite sworn surety) about how it is communicated, any exercise would be a post-containment one but—without hindering the delivery of supplies and the support of aid-workers in West Africa—flights ought to be grounded, and not selectively but world-wide since viruses do not respect the borders and remoteness that air-travel has also made obsolete. Restrictions, I think, ought to remain in effect until an outbreak occurring anywhere on Earth can be successfully treated on the spot and the standards (so long as that is an elevation and not healthy hegemony, a pharmacracy or a step backwards) for healthcare and sanitation that the West has are made available to everyone. Not only is it not an unreasonable dream, the costs of not doing so are quite dear.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

cliché verre

Boing Boing documents the reaction of an artificial intelligence researcher when he uploaded his holiday snapshots to an new, quick photo processing service.

Depending on the size and quality of the sample, the developer will tweeze over the images as a whole in order to refine poses, lighting, smiles and focus. Further, it can create composite images that never quite happened in reality, as the IA researcher discovered, finding a picture that he as the photographer was never able to frame but achieved the imagined, desired outcome. Cliché verre refers to the rotoscoping effect one produces by adding etches and paint to a photograph. The implications are fantastic, well beyond tweaking and tuning, but also a bit chilling—as even though a photographic perspective is never really a moment committed, frozen and fixed to some media, the notion that the aesthetic sense of a clever algorithm could act as an independent studio shop, having its subjects sit and pose for pictures that never took place.  What do you think?  Would you submit your pictures to this rather surreal service, not quite sure what would come back?

average atmospherocepalic bureaucrat in the act of milking a cranial harp

A jam-maker in Spain in the late 1950s had the idea to expand to the confectionary business, after seeing a child being scolded for sticky hands from eating candy, got the idea to put a bon-bon on a stick. Investors were wary so the entrepreneur got aggressive with marketing, commissioning the renowned artist Salvador Dali to design the package’s logo in 1969. The lollipop’s original slogan was in Catalan, “És rodó i dura molt, Chupa Chups”—that is, it’s round and long-lasting. Chupar itself means to suck.


With signature speculation and imagination, BLDGBLOG presents an interesting abstract on the implication of the peculiar properties of a cobalt-salt, which can rather horrifyingly like table-salt to slugs, suck all the oxygen out of a room. The crystal, however, is also capable of the reverse—that is timed-released of the sequestered oxygen. Learning how to harness this little trick could mean big advances it SCUBA operations—culling air from the water—and even for space exploration, as the storage medium is chemistry, rather than bulky, pressurized-containers.

Monday, 6 October 2014

fair-play or venue d’hiver

After having put the matter up to a popular vote, Norway—one of the top contenders to host the Winter Games—withdrew its bid for the 2022 Olympics.
Faced with the enormous costs for security, construction overruns, logistical demands, negative environmental impact and witnessing the hardships that the preceding host-nations have had to deal with, Oslo joined a slew of other candidates, due to public opposition, in pulling out of the competition. Now, instead of watching the Games played out in an enchanted snowy landscape of one of the Nordic countries (Stockholm was also in the running) or Kraków, St. Moritz or München, only two challengers remain: Almaty, Kazakstan and Beijing, China. To one unfortunate city go the spoils. Another major disillusioning factor is in terms of legacy and the boon that’s failed to materialize for local economies afterwards—it seems only oligarchs, cronies in capitalism, are beneficiaries of the sport—with construction, security firms and established sponsors seeing a lucrative profit out of a process that seems a bit tarnished all around. What do you think? Are big events becoming a liability rather than an honour and the stuff of shameless self-promotion and greed, for sale to the highest-bidder?

Sunday, 5 October 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: command economy or endangered specie

After the comic-tragedy of of a succession of rulers elevated, blindsiding both the nominees—ambitious or inuring and the state with no forward-looking policies in place and only filling the power-vacuum by whatever pretender might be sucked in next with the sufficient gravitas to plug the hole for a few years and sometimes just for a few weeks, Diocletian from Illyria (modern-day Dalmatia in Croatia) came on the scene, having risen through the military ranks to command the cavalry during campaigns in Persia and on the Danube frontier and radically reformed the way the Empire was governed, by turning the state back to the role of state-craft.
In order to prevent any potential usurpers from raising a fighting force that could unseat the incumbent, during the reign of Aulerian, the Emperor had taken personal charge of the bulwark of the legions and when crises emerged, marched his private army to whatever new insurgency, domestic uprising or incursions on the borderlands, was presenting itself. The tacit seemed to bring a measure of stability to the Empire, with Aulerian's tenure exceptionally long and productive compared to other office-holders of the time, but was very taxing and inefficient, given how the troops had to rush to counter any and all threats, and threatened to endanger the Empire any time there was an attack on more than one front. Realising these risks, either sacrificing border-security for the safety of the regime or vice versa, Diocletian took the bold and ingenious move of sharing imperium—first with a trusted co-regent—and then splitting the Empire into four united regions, reasoning that no man could let his ambitions get the better of him ruling a quarter of the civilised world with virtually full autonomy. Tax havens were eliminated and no province, even what had formerly been the home province of Italy, was accorded especial treatment, with capitals established at Antioch (on the Syrian/Turkish border), Nicomedia (near the more famous Constantinople), Milan and Trier, and demarcating a division of skill-sets that was not distinguished before, created separate military and civil-service career tracks that put professional administrators in charge of tax-collecting, the courts, assessment and public-works projects.
The bureaucratic hierarchy established put the persons of the Emperors behind endless corridors of intermediaries, answerable to the next higher officer, and lent them an air of almost a demi-god and not the the aura of the First Citizen, a common-man brought up in the ranks of soldiering and fraternising with the people, putting forth the principal of rule by the grace of God, the divine right of kings. The Empire consisted of around one hundred small provinces, which were grouped into larger political units called diocese (of the same Greek root for administration as the cognomen Diocletian), under the governance of an ombudsman called a vicar. These vicars coordinated the larger federal policies among the regional powers, and this structure was preserved, with essentially the same borders, by the Catholic Church after the Fall in the West to the present day. Of course, this apparatus was not just put in place to shield the upper echelons of leadership or to protect personal and dynastic interests, but rather, there was a lot of business, civil-affairs and economic-recovery, to attend to. These matters had been neglected for years, with emperors expected to preside over decisions large and small in trials and policy and near continual debasement of coins, reducing the precious metal (specie) content which resulted in inflation. Diocletian knew that simply coining more money made it worthless and began to round the worthless coppers and slugs and minted new currency of nearly pure silver and gold content.  His attempt was a worthy one, but Diocletian and his ministers did not take nearly enough of the old coins out of circulation and his successors did not enforce all the elements of the recovery plan, as tradesmen and later governments did not understand the economic principles in play. Money was still not worth its face-value.

Because tax revenues were falling precipitously and pur- chasing- power was declining, Diocletian suggested another bold reform that simply removed the intermediary of money and instituted payment in-kind. Sending out his legion of bureaucrats to take stock of what non-liquid assets every one possessed and how much each family needed to live, they returned and constructed a comprehensive equivalency chart to, without the medium of money, show that so many hours of work in the fields or of tending the herds or of soldiering or of shuttling munitions or of arrow-making, etc. was equal to so many units of grains, bolts of fabric, jugs of wine, tableware, etc. This thoroughly researched commissariat determined the annual budget for all the land, and actually functioned pretty well, leading to a better and more equitable return of services in exchange for what the Empire doled out. Barter such as this was naturally not conducive to international trade, the rest of the world having been introduced and now hopelessly accustomed to the Roman coin, but helped to stabilise the economy and replenish state coffers with fiat money. Diocletian even anticipated what might happen if everyone went after the easy or glamourous jobs, like prospector or astrologer, instead of more menial and harder work in exchange for their stipends, like garbage-collector or butcher, and called for the formation of trade guilds which set quotas and applied standards for admissions. Though ultimately the Empire fell in the West over invasion, military coup and economic implosion, Rome did go on existing for another one hundred or so years, already moribund when Diocletian came to power, and chose co-regents that allowed the Empire in the East to survive for another millennium. Diocletian retired graciously, the first and only Emperor to abdicate, to his homeland.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

market days

H and I had the chance to make our annual pilgrimage back to one of the best-attended Antikmärkte in the region, held on an earlier October date that forever seems enchanted with sunshine and good weather. Of course the hunt is more important than whatever treasures are found and we did find some nice keepsakes for this year's addition to the annual.
This gathering draws in dealers from all over Germany and the professionals know what prices that they can fetch, usually—experts from the German version of Antiques Roadshow, Kunst oder Krempel, also had a booth set up to offer on the spot appraisals.
We also had the chance to take a nice, long stroll around the beautiful city of Bamberg and spy some of its landmarks. There are an abundance of flea markets in Germany, with many of the same collections of items on tour, to explore but we are looking forward to the Bamberg show next year already.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

blue light special or lender of last resort

A major American retailer has finally managed to run rings around regulators and public-interest groups and is able to additionally bundle bank-like services for its patrons, many of whom belong to the demographic where they cannot avoid this particular discounter and are not of the means to be courted by other financial institutions.

The infamously miserly business-model of this company already enjoys the reputation of the destroyer of small businesses and Main Street, USA—long before on-line commerce was accused of demolishing brick-and-mortar, patronising suppliers of questionable ilk, and well as—being the employer of a large percentage of the workforce—pays workers so poorly that they could not get by without government assistance, supplemented by tax-payers at the expense of other public-good, and really the tithe and tax on the poor that the government tried to make less painful. The tithe is in the fine-print, as the banking-outreach seems rather harmless and even magnanimous at first, but there are transaction- and maintenance-fees that ensure a steady bleeding with hardly an infusion. The powerful lobbying arm of this corporation has additionally blocked any legislation that might award the same sort of bank-like powers to a lumbering US Postal Service, despite the system's obviously good geographical spread and the fact that post offices did exactly that until its charter was not renewed in the mid 1960s. What do you think? I have to ask, as I do not have the privilege of ever shopping there.

mauerfall or all and all, we're just another brick in the wand

After the metaphorical parting of the Iron Curtain, the very literal Wall was torn down, slabs were distributed to all corners of the world as monuments to this overcoming. It is a scary proposition to think that these pieces, in Berlin and here transplated to Wiesbaden, New York City and beyond could be recalled, cued to re-assemble like some polarising Voltron on some auspicious date.
Provided that nothing's, no sacrifice, forgot, however, I do not worry that there is a great deal to fear in looking forward.


Watching a documentary in search of Germany's most venerable trees—which featured such specimens as this tree in Salz, a community founded by Charlemagne (Karl der Große) and a suburb of our fair city, Bad Karma, I learned that there is no known tree to have surpassed the millennium mark (those whom might have been in serious contention were felled by Christian missionaries as pagan idolaltry), although at least one noble tree, per the practise of designating separate districts of forest where no one lives, has its own postal code and receives postcards.

This tree pictured is a linden and of advanced age, whose blooms in its boughs are important for the production of honey and was a choice material for wood- carving—the medium employed by Tilman Riemenschneider and other artists. I also learned that the word for beech (Buche, cf., Buch) is derived from the same Proto-Germanic root for book, as before the introduction of parchment and paper, the wood was used for tablets for northern European societies. A sooty pigment called bistre is also obtained by burning the wood and used by ancient people as a form of ink up to modern times with many of the Old Masters for using it for their sketches.


Recently in a special mass celebrated in honour of grandparents and the older generation, Pope Francis condemned the emerging culture of assisted-living, old-folks’ homes as a euphemism for a subtler and accepted form of euthanasia. A society that does not care for its past and respect its forbears, the Pontiff said, has no future, and warned of the poisons of institutionalising isolation, loneliness and neglect. The Papal Emeritus joined Pope Francis during the liturgy, as an example of the wisdom that seniors have to impart for the next generation, adding that he is quite happy that this grandfather figure is also residing in the Vatican.