Monday 2 December 2013

relative poverty

I cannot add anything of value to this narrative regarding concerning a live in endless cycle of poverty without the luxury of planning or the sort of fancy, subsidised foresight that we imagine ourselves to enjoy from an outsiders' perspective, except that this story is a provoking and important one to read (and reflect upon and share) and apply to ones own contrived blinders.

It is very important not to dismiss apparent bad decisions that contribute to caste and culture but in order not to deflect the critique, we have to recognise the cells that we each condemn ourselves to—not matter how much more pleasantly dressed than the alternative of being poor without end and without the ostentation of daring otherwise. It is better, I think, to live without privilege, however defined or misconstrued, than to go without empathy and circumspection and the hope to be able to distinguish a tool from a decoy of convention.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

till by turning, we come around 'right

Writing for the ever surprising and peripatetic Neatorama, Miss Cellania turns our attention to the avatars of Thankgivings past. Of course, originally, the feast was a communal celebration—an aspect that continues to the orphaned. I have enjoyed quite a few good and grateful meals in the company of strangers in the mess-hall. With gentrification, however, it became a chance for being seen and ostentation, by dining among peers in the swankest, most exclusive restaurants. I like the idea of community though the idea of privilege over noblisse-oblige and flaunting of ones means not so much. Thanksgiving dinner retreated to a private affair, prepared at home and an inviting rather than insular affair, with the signals from the economic downturn that followed this gilded age.

Sunday 6 October 2013

rushmore syndrome

There is a name and rather long history, it seems, associated with the closure of popular and highly visible attractions and programmes in the midst of a budget crisis—whether or not the cordoning-off has anything to materially do with the financial issue at hand.
Like using teachers, soldiers, first responders or 9/11 as fodder for another volley, the so called Washington Monument or Mount Rushmore Syndrome has been invoked time and time again, by politicians of all stripes either to sugar-coat unpopular riders or to demonstrate that good civics cannot necessarily pick and choose cosier services to the exclusion of others. Such actions, however, are more than symbolic considering, despite the toolishness and visitors and caretakers affected and whose weariness and frustrations are mounting, that the cobbling together of concessions, without real compromise or earnest efforts to address the root of galloping and perennial problems, has gone on for years—absent a showdown or truce.

Saturday 5 October 2013

enumerated powers

Wednesday 2 October 2013

pollster or keep calm and carry on

One would think given the virtual omnipresence of America's spying-apparatus, some one in the US government—with influence—might have had an inkling at least of how unpopular and damagingly disruptive a government shutdown and the emergency furlough to follow would prove. Enough studious bureaucrats were wringing their hands over it for days, working frantically, mongering rumours and nursing disbelief to gauge public reaction and sentiment. For that matter, one would think that the intelligence agencies would have had some insider-knowledge and could have predicted the stalemate in the legislature and where the cracks are forming in each side's stance and whom will eventually give in. Though non-essential services have been curtailed, time is still of the essence and only after one full day of this new reality, panic and doom is setting in. As for the households directly impacted, dreading a pay-check even docked by a few days' pay that may never materialise because money is tight mostly already spent, the mounting inconveniences that lurk after funding is appropriated with weeks of catch-up, shuttered monuments, parks and museums, and science projects put on hold weren't already reason enough to find a quick resolution—there are attendant consequences.
Among the knock-on worries are the Federal Depositors' Insurance Commission (FDIC) being incapacitated and unable to launch any new investigations should a bank declare bankruptcy, the potential for delays in ship- and airfreight for a nation warehoused with vulnerable, interdependent just-in-time systems or that the federal courts will exhaust remaining funds in ten days or so. A few days more and business and the exchanges will begin to commiserate as well as more and more deadlines are trounced. So much for omnipotence, I guess.

Monday 30 September 2013

speakeasy or yes, minister

For some time there has been a continual soap-opera cycling in the hallowed halls of the US government, yet it is hardly the stuff of dramaturgy without great license and a keen imagination, being that the dialogue outside of what the public is subjected to and the secretive pow-wows whose proceedings are all to easy to envision, is the sum total of the exchange. The two parties do not engage one another off-line, as big as the growing disconnect between civilian and military leaders. That is not to say that backroom, unregulated deals are preferable—enough of those end up codified without the watch-dog of checks and balances or the consent of the public that the elected legislature is supposed to represent, but at least, without too much theatre or romanticism, there was in the past the water-cooler, the break-room or social-dues that saw senators and congressmen, regardless of political ilk, spending time together at private haunts, after hours.
This club culture is undone by hasty retreats to their constituencies whenever recess is called, which no matter how short can find repre- sentatives home and back again in no time and the conscience decision not to filter one's public and private lives. Thinking of two congressmen casually finding commonalities by forgetting differences and spending a spare moment together seems unfortunately like a laughable prospect nowadays, for fear one might question their party loyalties. I couldn't say whether any great compromised was ever reached in Congress by a dining-out but it's a fact that only keeping company that's like-minded is quite sufficient for justifying one's own views—or rather the unshakable views that one is expected to have.

Friday 27 September 2013

aca, ada, abracabra

It is the Anti-Deficiency Act of 1882, as amended, that puts the American government in the precarious situation of dismissing some one-third, deemed non-essential—which has the interesting ring of the imagination of Douglas Adams (not a statesman)—of its workforce without compensation. The government will still discharge its duty to protect, duty to warn with a skeleton crew, who themselves will not see their salary until such time as Congress has set a budget, being legally bound against the incursion of further debts that it cannot vouch for. The last time a full government shut-down happened, notwithstanding many intermediate close-calls and political staring-contests, was in the winter of 1995 and 1996 and I remember being quite frustrated that the National Galleries were closed to visitors and I came expressly to see a special Rembrandt exhibit.
I was content, however, at the time with making snow-angels on the Capitol. There were dread inconveniences (a weak word) to public services and those employees embargoed, and this time we can only project the impact of disrupting the paper-push of bureaucracy the hardship of individuals just now starting to recover from the last rounds of an administrative-, as opposed to an emergency-, furlough, though the predictions of doom and despair did not come to fruition at-large and the output of the federal government is largely invisible and looks expendable until one is personally affected by the loss of a cog or two. Though the causes reach back much further and the US government has expanded into something unwieldy and self-serving—surely to be redressed by follow-on show-downs like the looming matter of America's debt burden that will make this intransigence seem like theatre, the major bone of contention that is keeping the legislative branch staunchly divided is over another Act, the Affordable Care Act (a new idea only to America, though, with most of the rest of the world having put universal health-coverage in place long ago), and not in costs, immediate nor long-term, but rather in perception and principle. The devil's advocate seems to keep company with a business-lobby not renowned for its fair labour-practices to begin with, and considering that all of the really awful and onerous laws that the US has implemented and unleashed upon the rest of the world (lately, at least, if not always) have been done so at the beck-and-call of this same cartel, perhaps it would be wise to consider careful what these groups through inflexible fear-mongering might be trying to un-write.

Sunday 15 September 2013

laissez-faire is everywhere

There were several stories in circulation this week, echoing from many corners of the world and many times without deference to this being the fifth anniversary of the collapse of the too-big-to-fail financial house whose downfall placed economics internationally in chaos, that proclaimed real and shadow markets to be fully recovered and no longer in danger of relapse.

Maybe some early optimists took the occasion to express a brighter outlook and the mimics missed the crux of the context and rather not let ancient history complicate an apparent slow-news day or revive unpleasant memories and fueled with the hopes of returning to simpler and more trusting times—an economic nostalgia when the labour situation in Greece had nothing to do with the price of eggs and banks were an insulating factor true to their word that tomorrow could only be bigger and better. Indeed, some the language was reminiscent of the patriotic overtures to just go shopping in the aftermath of the September 11 Attacks to restore the world economy. Never mind about confidences shaken and disintegrated, the disclosure of inflationary and unethical practices, the stark shift away from social good and board and bed lost and increasingly aggressive circling-of-wagons by the banking aristocracy and their court, their sophists—journalism being a big part of that estate, to keep the game going. Dwelling on the negative and preaching doom and gloom is only helpful as a reminder and urging precaution—not that pathological adventurers need inspiration, but I do wonder sometimes who sponsors such spin and de-programming.

Friday 13 September 2013

austausch, b-gosh

Long had European Union Commissioner for Internal Affairs Malmstrรถm held her tongue over the on-going revelations of the breadth and depth of indiscriminate intelligence gathering on the part of the US—not, I think, out of a lack of concern or zeal but rather to not bait controversy prematurely, but digesting the reported reach of the spying, suggested that the lack of transparency could lead to the EU's withdrawal from the SWIFTBanking Treaty with the United States.

The agreement provides that the signatories hand over certain financial transactions to America, in the name of combating tax-evasion and money-laundering and rooting out all imaginable evils. Malmstrรถm, after learning how the SWIFT clearing-house for international bank transfers is apparently already subject to eavesdropping, she questions why they are now asking permission. Her statements have galvanised the parliament in Strasbourg and several factions have agreed to join together with demands that all cards be laid on the table, including back-door practices. Quitting the treaty would be a significant affront US-EU relations and mark the first time that a bilateral data-sharing (Austausch) arrangement was challenged—a few of which the Swedish commissioner herself helped orchestrate.

Friday 9 August 2013

speakeasy or mayor mac cheese

Via Slate Magazine, we find out that the kids' menu is not merely an extension of the atavism of adult palettes—to the same level of maturity for refinement, or an attempt to inculcate young and impressionable adherents but rather come from a strange mix in America of medicine, morality and marketing.

Prohibition really opened the doors to the younger crowd and created the concept of the family restaurant. Prior to America's ban on alcohol consumption, restaurants not embedded in a hotel generally did not serve children—a phrase from whence similar punchlines stem, because they tended to be in the way and interfered with the imbibing of adult-beverages, still today any restaurant's biggest profit-maker. In order to make up for lost revenues, restauranteurs looked to catering to family-units. Unaccustomed to making dining out an experience for the youngsters too, parents needed to be presented with a certain level of reassurance, a fare for children that seemed safe and balanced, given all sorts of fretful ideas swirling with nutritional and age-appropriate foods. Compared to the gourmet dishes adults were served, kids got basically bland and safe concoctions—nothing to inspire returning when they reached dining majority, the meals were dictated by the prevailing pedagogical thoughts of the times—nothing too challenging or threatening for immature tastes nor anything indulgent. I wonder how the consequent moon-shining affected the public psyche.  The industry trend has shifted these days to a denominator of guilty-pleasures, it seems.

Thursday 8 August 2013

redux or fe-fi-furlough II

While I am very happy that the forced vacation of the majority of Defense Department workers ending some the hardships incurred on individuals and families and the discontinuity of work, faced now with the alternative, layoffs and a reduction in force seem even more unpalatable.

As for the rest of the the US government, I am not sure how the posture is affected. Part of me thinks (surely the prophet of doom part) that the department should have let it run its course, since the military is seeming less and less credible in its estimation of consequences—in some eyes right now: the warnings were most dire, grounding fleets and ships and making America vulnerable defensively and offensively, which according to outside perspectives, did not come to pass and the scope of the furlough was steadily revised downward, until all but eliminated through some tricks of accounting. Cuts in pay and hours of work were never the solution and seeing the threat through to prove a point is just as bad as the stubborn political brinksmanship that pushed the budget crisis and the follow-on effects in the first place. A temporary reprieve, however, may prove to be a cost no one can afford later down the line. I am sure real cost-savings were far in the negative range and the balance of sequestration remains. No deal on the budget is forthcoming and relations and realities have not improved. Savings—or at least the show thereof, will have to be excised from elsewhere, and politics, prone to the usual array of interests that can subvert the public-good, surely will prevail and fail.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

cri de couer or you can't handle the truth

Although I still declare that anyone truly shocked by learning that the world is the prying, groping place is a measure naรฏve or even complacent or complicit, public attention and outrage ought not be placated by life intimato Ars, the words of prophets of doom, or by practicality, commonality—offensive aspirations.

As more is revealed, everyone will have transgressions against the public trust to confess and defend. Arguing that tolerance and reciprocation do not justify the ends invite the same kind of arrogance of seeing the Big Picture, omnipresence, as does the intelligence Manifest Destiny of the US and conspirators. The disabusing quality of the former is far from palatable and probably inures one to the successive headlines—not only in bed with the telecommunication utilities, foreign intelligence agencies but also trawling from the series of tubes, upstream, that make up the internet and now there is an apparent mandate for snitching that's a free-pass for going beyond regular nosiness and jumping to conclusions and this mass-deputization is bound to go above and beyond—and may go far, in a social sense, of explaining why there is a poignant absence of rage on the perpetrating and perpetrated public—that and a convenient coalescing of economic conditions and conditional victories that deflect securities as a very—be-not-proud personal choice.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

percentile or blue-screen

The press seemingly have an obligation to announce their special-coverage with an infographic or a dramatic-photo montage and an orchestral strike. For continuing development concerning the government budget sequestration and mitigating measures, like furloughing defense department employees—with the caveat that contracted, conscripted or otherwise exempt personnel should not be utilised to make up for lost work, one publication went with, I think, a very unfortunate symbol to illustrate a cut in 20% in pay for affected workers—evocative of a time when the Pentagon was really and truly lamed. Perhaps in some ways, it is good to trim back the rhetoric with such stoppage and temporary estoppel but from the perspective of personal hardships and future knock-on effects, it quickly reveals itself as unacceptable and counterproductive.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

oh weal, oh woe or ttip—ta ta for now

Watchdog CEO (Corporate Europe Observatory) delves into the details of the US-EU trade agreement that was ratified at the G9 summit and shows how, without much imagination of an embarrassment of gullibility, public welfare is becoming a nuisance easily steamrolled by business interests, constituted in such a way as to give industry carte-blanche to flagrantly ignore established national laws and policies and give pause to governments thinking of championing the common weal.  Of course this development is vying for attention (or rather, seeking cover) with the Conference itself and the effective-date for FATCA in Germany, plus whatever distracting scandal of the day. 

When regulatory climates are seen as damaging to investor profits or acting toward the detriment of health, labour-rights, safety or the environment—depending on one's perspective, both parties are bound to submit their cases before a kangaroo court of arbitrated settlement, the commission for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), headed by a group of lawyers with an established reputation. Lobbyists on both sides of the Atlantic are responsible for crafting these conditions, and thankful activists the world around are keenly aware of the dangers of disincentivizing de-soverigning, too. Unfortunately public service has its price, as well, demonstrated by the precursors to this treaty.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

pyrrhic victory or the hundred years’ war

Though characterized and distilled mostly as the proprietary authority for businesses to demand applicants, supplicants and current employees surrender their social-network profile upon request, which while good for garnering glancing concern and attentions, is sadly short-lived and is not engaging public dialogue in CISPA is again positioned for passage in the US Congress, despite conflating opposition. 
Just as there are champions for keeping us over-safe, we have our tireless advocates, but the issue and the real, long-term stakes remain something that is easily placated or dismissed.
eroding privacy. Victorious skirmishes, sometimes ceded over inflated (at least, in the here-and-now) fears, overshadow—by design, I think, the larger struggle, since these assaults are becoming perennial continuing-resolutions politically.

Saturday 2 March 2013

ab in beurlaubt

The US executive and legislative branches were unable to reach or fake a compromise, which triggers a count-down, sort of like a Rube Goldberg contraption, towards budgetary sequestration across most of America’s federal programmes, mandatorily paring funding and raising the spectre of furloughs (unpaid absences) for hundreds of thousands of government workers world-wide.

It is wholly excusable, I think, for most of the international public to be aghast at the dysfunction while thinking that a temporary curtailment of the sticky wickets of bureaucracy won’t cause any significant damage. It’s an embarrassing situation and a disservice to populace, to be sure, but I think blame and hyperbolic overtures to the boogeymen of security and the already prevalent attitude (in perception and in fact) regarding faded glory do really overlook the cascading effects of the situation. Though the expected cost-cutting measures, immediately and projected out over the next decade, represent only a tiny, tiny fraction of the larger deficiency, some 85 billion dollars out of an either four, eleven, 15 (or exponentially higher) trillion dollar debt, cutting back work on the proposed scales could mean a twenty percent drop in the purchasing power of the federal work force and those associated with it, not to mention those indirectly affected by delay and errors, all of whom will probably never be fully redressed.
This fifth does is not a chuck out of the whole of the abstract US economy, mostly conjuring money out of the movement of money and pushing paper, but—and perhaps even more urgently, this reduction is a double-decimation, not just in terms of income and employment and delivery, but a realignment, like annexing twenty percent of the America’s smaller communities, absorbing them into larger neighbours with an even more massive yet over-burdened civil institutions. It is like the pettiness and gridlock of the Congress leaking out of the Beltway and set loose on all aspects of the American public.  The wheels of government will continue to turn with skeleton-crews, more work pressed out of staff remaining, rotating singly through the work week with less continuity and more matters overcome in the transition because it will have to. Authorities, in spite or because of the knock-on effects, may realize that adjustments (austerity American-style) can be accommodated and can make do with a scaled back government—or, and probably heralded by flagging spending and all around timidity, essential and uniting services both will become untenable under a reorganization that excised too much stability, functional determination and assuredness, whether or not misplaced, out of communities too quickly.

Friday 25 January 2013


Since their inception, there have been standards enshrined in the culture of highways, Autobahnen with the intent of breaking up monotony without sparing on utility. There are mandates for gentle curves in order to keep drivers alert, in contrast to straightaway, required in some places to allow for emergency airplane landings.
Sometimes such subtler persuasions are overshadowed by constant construction works, same-otherwise by a few vistas of spectacular scenery and roads hugging the contours of the landscape. There are still, however, quite a number of long numbing stretches of road, especially for the express route through flat lands. Although not common in America or Germany, there are score of techniques tried in France, Denmark and the Netherlands to with art streaming along the margins, posts a-pace with the traffic that change like flip-book animation, rather abstract and Jungian and light installations. Some really creative things have been done, but now such Dutch civil engineers are applying their artistry to creating smart-roads, beginning with a stretch of highway by Eindhoven.

Though the pavement is yet to be steam-rolled and there is a balance of skeptics, planners are brimming with ideas, like hyper-colour reactive paint, that yields neon blue snow flake patterns on the asphalt when temperatures dip below freezing or luminescent lanes that glow in the dark, roads that monitor traffic conditions and issue reports (displaying warning to drivers of on-coming traffic jams), cull wind power from passing cars to power a lane designated for electric automobiles that they might be charged en route. I imagine that quite a bit of energy could be harnessed in intelligent and passive ways. A lot of ideas to make vehicles more efficient are making some head-way but still fall short of where we should be, but paying heed to the pavement, the other substrate may yield a lot of inventive solutions.

Saturday 12 January 2013

underpass or suburban legend

Though second- and third-hand tales abounded, until recently there was no undisputed evidence of cow tunnels boring under the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. Although far less incredulous than giant crocodiles, sprung from unwanted pets flushed down toilets, lurking in sewers, urban spelunkers are beginning to map out this forgotten underground network, meant to reduce the traffic of livestock brought into 1870s Gotham disrupting human transportation.

Atlas Obscura’s intrepid team of explorers reintroduces this lost bit of infrastructure with a bit of history and discovery. Of course the detour avoiding the most crowded parts of the city was not a radically new idea, what with established gazing commons and cattle trails crossed by railroads and highways. Underpasses were dug in order to keep them doggies rolling. New York’s grid, however, seemed by all accounts a complex and unseen labyrinth. I wonder how many other cities and towns (London, Paris or Berlin, perhaps?) created similar networks (mazes of alleyways, canals or elevated catwalks) for market days and have long since forgot the original use of these passageways and re-purposed them for other uses.

Thursday 10 January 2013

cosign and spirograph

Current White House chief of staff and former budget wonk Jack Lew is the new pick for Cabinet posting of Secretary of the Treasury. Though a seasoned veteran of Washington, Lew’s appointment’s is garnering the most attention over his loopy, hoovesie signature that will eventually appear on legal tender.
My simple signature—honed and hewn down to next to nothing due to having to sign a lot of paperwork, sometimes causes people to balk and occasionally I am prompted for something a little more legible or identifiable—especially by the postal authorities. I am sure Mr. Lew’s John Hancock would not pass muster either, and it looks like an awkward scrawl of acknowledgement on one of those electronic signature pads at the checkout—the kind that you can draw anything on and the screen brightly informs you that signature is accepted and verified. I wonder where in the aether those x’s are sorted and if they’re ever brought back up.

Friday 28 December 2012

down on cripple creek or stockholm syndrome

By engaging in the politics of terror, I think the United States is poised to play a very risky game that risks it becoming a caricature, mockery of the democratic process. It is unfair to lay blame squarely and solely on one party faction, since there is more than ample blame to go around—including the voting-public and the abstentious, but I think it is a safe assertion to point to one cadet wing of the Republican Party, trenchantly conservative and angry, as blocking compromise and negotiation.

This one faction is hijacking, ransoming  US policy, and as a result, is not only holding captive its close associates but also the broader Republican Party, the entire legislative branch and the executive besides, not to mention the ameliorating US economy, only just shooed away from the precipice and it’s not going to be something fun or exciting like a roller-coaster or going over the edge of a waterfall in a barrel—that has already been done. On some levels and in some ways, too I fear, the hostages are starting to identify, relate to their captors, though most are roundly alienated and marginalized. By all measures, the US economy is driven by consumer spending and consumer sentiment and not the ripples and tides of investment and abstract enterprise, but sacrificing the former at the bidding of the latter proves that authentic finance is just more and more relegated to show and pretense.