Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A la recherche of a europaeische Identity

I have always been pro-European so I was glad to read this interview with Jean Quatremer. He says, seen from a distance Europe may look soulless, but when you are in the thick of it there is human passion. He enthuses about the finely balanced mechanisms that keep conflicts of interest from drifting into crises or even wars. And
I am convinced that this federal Europe my wishes are calling for will see the light of day, not because of a desire for increasingly tight-knit federalism, but because the world will oblige us to create it. In 2050 Europe will represent no more than 4% of the global population. If we are not united we will not exist in the emerging world: Europe's domination of the world died in 1945.
While Quatremer talked of necessities, the interview still managed to exude a passion for the European idea. So I agreed with everything he said - as far as my shaky French and my ignorance of the intricacy that is political Europe would allow me.
But alas, Quatremer is quite aware that as yet a sense of European identity eludes most European people. "It is when we have to defend our values that a European identity will take shape, that being European will have a meaning".
At this point I went in search possible sources for shared European values. My first stop was history. How about the Roman empire?

Quite good, but too little east, too much south. Then there was religion as seen on this map of the crusades.
Too much hocuspocus and too little south. And because I was born there, I have a soft spot for the Hansa:
Yes, I know, this union reached only a tiny bit of northern Europe and held no real political power. But at least it was a union, it had to be negotiated - albeit with the help of the odd skirmish.
And although neither the Roman empire nor the catholic church could be considered European in spirit they left a language and a set of values. So Europeans could talk, and talk they did. Borders did not stop them, weeks/months of travelling or waiting for an answer to their letters did not stop them, wars did not stop them. And when the discourse started to include women they switched from Latin to French, but they kept on talking. Politics did not stop them either, because initially, there was nothing much they could do about politics.
Two world wars and four decades of cold war with the iron curtain firmly drawn finally shut them up; prevented us from continuing the discourse. Now we have a political union (of sorts), but the discourse is fragmented to smithereens and instead of a lingua franca we have 23 official languages multiplied by untold issues.
So it is hardly surprising that Quatremer, after his brief excursion into the realm of hopes and aspirations for Europe, returns to his blog, Coulisses des Bruxelles, the next day to tackle the nitty gritty reality: Europes chief diplomat does not answer her phone. The piece starts and ends with quotes from a European diplomat.

"Catherine Ashton is about to kill the job", says a despairing European diplomat.
"In short, "she has got neither the team, the profoundness, nor the intention of making this post what it ought to be", concludes a European diplomat.
(all translations my own - I hardly trust them myself)

Among the many shortcomings of first High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy listed in Quatremer's post, one is that she speaks nothing but English. And why should she? Has not English become the new lingua franca?
But that was the beauty of middle Latin - it was a second language for everyone who used it. When you switch from one language to another, your perspective changes, suddenly you can say things you could not even have thought before. Use a second language and you have another mindset at your disposal. Could this be the reason that Julien Frisch feels more comfortable blogging about Europe in English? If we want to rekindle the European discourse that was so brutally interrupted by the 20th century's hot and cold wars we need to get reacquainted first in all our diversity. Embracing le plurilinguisme could be a much better idea than making do with a mere working language.

Monday, January 18, 2010

EUROPA writes a letter

I have always been passionately European, but it turns out, that I know hardly anything about Europe, so it is a good thing that I can find out on the EUROPA site. Helpful as the site already is, it turns out, that it will not always give me results. Have a look:

Below this 12 documents were listed, but I also wanted to be able to look at the legislation, so I clicked Eur-Lex. Here is the result:

So I did try again, but this time I used a reference number I found next to 'amflora' on the EUROPA search results and bingo!

But this is cumbersome to say the least. So it is a relief to find that the site managers of EUROPA have written an open letter to the incoming EU commissioners and president Barroso, suggesting changes to the site.
We will need a major shift in attitude to break away from the one-way, top-down communication culture, still prevalent in many parts of the organisation, and develop an in-house communication culture that encourages and empowers staff across the organisation to use the internet to interact with people.

Imagine what it must be like to think of a potato with the deceptively pretty name of amflora as EH92-527-1, and the documents that regulate this potato as 52007PC0813 and 52007PC0336. Will it distort your perception? And this is just one example. What about issues concerning asylum seekers or seasonal workers? I could not empathise with a reference number for the life of me.

So I wholeheartedly agree with kosmopolito's comment on this letter:
I think it is a very good initiative. There are a lot of opportunities for EU institutions by engaging with web tools. Unfortunately there is still a rather widespread skepticism among politicians and officials despite a few good examples how to use web 2.0 tools successfully. Hopefully this letter will contribute to a rethink in the institutions. Moreover, this would also be a good topic to bring up during the Commission-designate hearings in the European Parliament this week…
To express my enthusiasm I simply had to see what it looked like in wordle - in patriotic colours, of course.

I'm glad that I found the letter thanks to a retweet by #bueti.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Happy Governments

Last year I mentioned happiness and thought the whole idea would self-destruct in a cloud of absurdity. It didn't, of course. So now Frank Furedi had a look at the subject:
Of course, no one wants to miss the point of life. And the platitude that money does not make you happy contains more than a grain of truth. However, what the happiness lobbyists are actually saying is not that we should go forth and discover the meaning of life, merely that we should be content with what's on offer. They claim that concern with prosperity and economic growth diminishes the quality of our emotional life and makes us unhappy. They argue that if we were more modest in our aspirations and lowered our expectations, we would be far happier people.
Daily Telegraph
Eureka or Uriah Heep and his humble happiness?
via Arts & Letters Daily

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Word Burst

Not Partner Material put a word cloud on her blog(via The Philosophical Marshmallow). What a lovely idea, I thought and here is mine:

(courtesy of snapshirts)

Would it not be lovely to just project an inner word cloud onto page or post instead of laboriously placing words on a linear string of syntax? Considering that our brains may explode into thousands of words per moment, as Gerald Crow suggests in his paper on The Writing Problems of Visual Thinkers a word cloud may well give a more accurate picture of the racket in our brains.

The increasing use of subliminal audio tapes suggests that the mind may have the ability to think in complete syntactical units at enormous rates of speed, and in several channels simultaneously. One recent experiment suggests that the mind may be able to think a burst of a thousand words as rapidly as it can produce a picture: Korba (1986) estimated that people can think at the equivalent of 4,000 words per minute.

And then again - maybe not. NASA - among other things - seems to be working on a device that will read your mind. If you let it.
In space, no one can hear you scream. Use a cell phone on a crowded commuter train and everyone can.
Charles Jorgensen is working to solve both problems, using an uncanny technology called subvocal speech recognition. Jorgensen demonstrates it at his offices at NASA's Ames Research Laboratory in Mountain View, Calif. He attaches a set of electrodes to the skin of his throat and, without his opening his mouth or uttering a sound, his words are recognized and begin appearing on a computer screen.

Admittedly, words that you merely think of saying are a far cry from the word bursts Grow writes about. Still, I'm glad that as a woman no one could expect me to constantly wear a turtle neck or - perish the thought - a tie that picks up my subvocalisations.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Pattern Competition

Outrageously, circumstances have prompted me to leave my beloved place of residence, a more or less peaceful city made up of almost 2 million inhabitants. I washed up on the shores of the pedestrian precincts of a much smaller town - about a quarter of a million citizens. The people around me seemed locked in a slow motion bubble. Had it not been for a native who held on to me, I'd have shot through this placid crowd like a bit of greased lightning.

Luckily for you and I differing pedestrian speeds are already lovingly described in the Glass Maze (via The Philosophical Marshmallow (via Give me spirit fingers dammit)).

The Glass Maze also mentions different styles of dress between "the sticks" and the city. You bet there was a difference between dress styles in my beloved little metropolis and the provincial town. The dwellers of the provicial plains sport their textiles almost entirely without any style whatsoever. Let them walk in Hennes or Chanel, they uniformly look like freshly licked puppy dogs as opposed to Hamburg where you will find a fair degree of mix and (mis)match - and oh, for goodness sake - some litter in the streets!

There also is a difference in atmosphere and I just love the way the Glass Maze extracts this from a café latte:
There’s a franticness about the city coffee delivery system that differs in both kind and degree from the bustle of your typical suburban Starbucks: it’s more frantic, certainly, but it’s also possessed of a certain kind of paradoxical languor, as if all of this mayhem is right and proper and thoroughly expected, the way things really ought to be.

People do this. Effortlessly, at times even elegantly, we recognise patterns. We do this more often than not without even realising what we are about. And yet it was only yesterday that I was fascinated by Kevin Kelly's predictions for scientific advancements to be expected (to his mind) within the next 45 years.
Pattern Augmentation – Pattern-seeking software which recognizes a pattern in noisy results. In large bodies of information with many variables, algorithmic discovery of patterns will become necessary and common. These exist in specialized niches of knowledge (such particle smashing) but more general rules and general-purpose pattern engines will enable pattern-seeking tools to become part of all data treatment.

I was even more fascinated by Kelly's "Multiple Hypothesis Matrix"
Instead of proposing a series of single hypothesis, in which each hypothesis is falsified and discarded until one theory finally passes and is verified, a matrix of many hypothesis scenarios are proposed and managed simultaneously. An experiment travels through the matrix of multiple hypothesis, some of which are partially right and partially wrong. Veracity is statistical; more than one thesis is permitted to stand with partial results. Just as data were assigned a margin of error, so too will hypothesis. An explanation may be stated as: 20% is explained by this theory, 35% by this theory, and 65% by this theory. A matrix also permits experiments with more variables and more complexity than before.

Old hat, you might say: is not this precisely what makes large (non-hierarchical) groups of people more intelligent than any single human being?

Yet I choose to remain fascinated. Not only do we recognise patterns easily and process competing hypotheses in social matrices/systems, we are aware of these achievements and build machines which attempt to emulate them.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Because We Can

Recently I have been doing quite a few things that might seem exaggerated, senseless even. When I asked myself 'why', the answer was: Because I can. Such acts move outside convention and necessity; they are neither art, nor downright silliness. They celebrate the wealth of options at my disposal - at everyone's disposal.

So I am not surprised to find others doing things because they can, but very glad. There is the plan to drive a golf ball into orbit from the ISS. (via Kottke)

Then there are the biologists looking at their petri dishes. They are, of course bent on finding out, what on earth is going on in the strange world unfolding before their very microscopes. But they still leave room to marvel at the beauty of what they see. (via Kottke again)

Oh, alright you nosey-parkers. Just one. My goddaughter had entrusted me with her beloved sheep DingDing (it plays a lullaby, if you pull a string). I felt very honoured indeed, but having been plied with oceans of tea I had to do something about it. So I got up sheep in hand pronouncing: DingDing needs to got to the toilet. And it did.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Grin

I found this wonderful news on quantum computing. Needless to say I did not understand a word. And yet... I had a vision. There it was, Schroedinger's Cat. Both dead and alive and it did what I always suspected of it: From its sealed box it transmitted its smile into the boughs of a tree where only Alice could see it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Blogging Inspite of It All

If you ask the nonist the little hiatus observable on this blog may well be due to blog depression. The nonist have created a PDF Pamphlet which proposes to deal with this new scourge of the blogosphere. The six pages with their deliberately goofy design get increasingly anti-blog. (Via aeiou)

Blog-Depression? Of course not!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Lost Finger and the Corporation Spirit

This is the story of a potentially dangerous machine making frozen custard (via boingboing). To date it has ripped off two fingertips in two separate incidents. The fingertip severed last friday was sold inadvertently to a customer while the employee was rushed to hospital. This is also the story of the customer who found the fingertip. He was enraged by what he found in his frozen custard, which is, perhaps, only natural. He returned to the frozen custard outlet and gave them a piece of his mind. But when the manager implored him to let her get the fingertip to the hospital where it might be rejoined to its rightful owner, the customer refused. That kind of behaviour has not endeared the customer to JesusH and Heanyland

But what happened? While the customer was shocked and confused by foreign matter in his custard the Corporation Spirit entered his mind. If you carefully look at this site, you will find
a) that the Corporation Spirit has nothing to do with the devil
b) that it usually does not enter the minds of customers, but rather that of CEOs of big corporations (via treehugger).

But whereever it goes, the Corporation Spirit dehumanises the minds it occupies. This is how Corporations cause endless suffering for the machinistas in Honduras, exploit and/or pollute natural ressources etc. (remember NoLogo? I do, more often than is pleasant, but perhaps not often enough). In their private lives CEOs and managers may be very nice people, but when at work they have to bend themselves to the amoral and psychopathic objectives of the corporation. Here is an interview with Joel Bakan, co-author of The Corporation which explores this idea in somewhat greater detail. We have no time for this.

We need to get back to the customer who abducted a human fingertip, however unwillingly. He could not differentiate between a company that sold him splatter-custard and a human being who had a tragic accident. He could have helped, but the Corporation Spirit came over him and prompted him to kidnap the fingertip a second time. It now resides in his freezer and is occasionally taken out for the benefit of media cameras.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

One World - Reflected by 6 Billion Minds

My extremely significant other alerted me to this news of Joseph Weizenbaum, who gave a talk at the world's largest computer museums in provincial Paderborn/Germany. Unfortunately I only found German sites, so here is what he said.
'The internet is a dungheap with pearls in it. But you have to ask the right questions to find those pearls. This is what most people can't do.'
'We have the illusion of living in an information society. We hve the internet, we have google, the search engine, we are under the illusion that the knowledge of all mankind is at out fingertips.'
But 'it's the work of interpetration inside the head that transforms the signs we see on the screen into information. Most of the time we don't get the signs that are important for our decision.'
Weizenbaum claims that even at the best of universities students can no longer write their essays without resorting to writing programmes or even... no he doesn't say it, but submitting essays found on the internet seems to become increasingly common.
The worst, Weizenbaum thinks, is giving computers to smaller children - it would turn their brains into applesauce.

Then, applesauce dribbling from my ears I dive for the next pearl. Is this it? A Wired article in which Steven Johnson propounds the "cognitively demanding leisure" hypothesis. It is a fact that we are getting constantly better results an IQ-tests. So much so that IQ-test companies have had to grade us down over the last decades, so that results peak at 100 points. Johnson thinks that having to wrestle with VCRs and user-unfriendly software may well have contributed to this rise of intelligence. Via Boingboing.
So which of these informations is the pearl? Both, of course.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Real Virtual Art

How would you feel, if you just dropped into your local corner shop, because you forgot to get something really essential when you did your proper shopping, like toilet paper or batteries. Everything looks normal, but as soon as you close the door, the humdrum shop turns into a high-tech art gallery. Holograms of strangely anthropomorpic birds swish by, dancers endlessly repeat their movements - compelled by your own gestures...
That is how I felt, when I first entered the fragile circus (found at Das hermetische Café). The flying puppets are even more haunting. So don't go there without broadband, shockwave and lots of time.

To get myself back into reality and out of nightmare mode I only had to look outside my open window and take a deep breath. The lilac in the yard has punctually and obligingly opened its blossoms to send out its bewitching fragrance.

Failing such a serene boost of reality, what about a game of chess to sober you up? I don't play chess and with this online version of the game I can see why. When you make a move the programme shows all the possible future moves. It makes losing your pieces endless fun.

Friday, April 22, 2005

History? Kill it, before it kills you

If you put me on the rack, I'll confess to a posse of very strange hobbies indeed. One of them is being shocked. Easily done, you may say, with the world being what it is. The machinistas in Honduras, 5 million jobless in a country of 80 million people. Children dying because they don't have access to clean water. Why, anyone can be shocked by an endless number of horrors and so am I. But I like to take it a little further. Today it is the stench of prosody decomposing that hurts my sensibilities. This is what David Yezzi has to say about it in his essay "The fortunes of formalism"
Some years ago, in a class I was attending, a well-known, well-published visiting poet gave an assignment to write a poem in blank verse. When the class reconvened and copies of the poems were handed around, one writer read out her exercise. The instructor’s polling of the class for comments on the success of the poem as blank verse was followed by the usual pause as people gathered their thoughts. Then, admitting to a certain confusion, I tentatively offered that it was a fine poem but it was not iambic pentameter. At this point, a low-level panic ran around the seminar table as people returned to the poem to weigh this fact against the text. Relief came when the renowned poet, our instructor, suggested to the group that blank verse needn’t be iambic pentameter.
The New Criterion (via Art & Letters Daily)

Let me refresh your memory with a quick definition:
Blank Verse: Verse in iambic pentameter without rhyme scheme, often used in verse drama in the sixteenth century (Marlowe and Shakespeare) and later used for poetry (Milton, Wordsworth's The Prelude, Browning).
The Literary Encyclopedia
Claiming to produce blank verse without writing it in iambic pentameter is like saying: 'Look at this neat triangle I've constructed; it has six angles that add up to precisely 370 degrees.' Does that tell us anything about the well-known poet and the student of Yezzi's anecdote - are they stupid? Shockingly enough, the answer is no. They merely live in mortal terror of the Total Perspective Vortex, history division.

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the wife of the dreamer and inventor Trin Tragula constantly tells him to get a sense of perspective. So Trin invents a device that extrapolates the fundamental connexion of everthing with everything (from a piece of fruitcake). When you are strapped in you get to feel your insignificance in respect to the rest of the universe. His wife is the first person to be strapped in.
To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot have is a sense of proportion. (Douglas Adams, HHGG)
These days history tends to induce a similar kind of horror. If you sit in a poetry class and stumble over a literary brontosaurus like 'blank verse', you cannot afford to check it out. It will lead you to the iambic pentameter and from there to Shakespeare, or, goddess forbid, Chaucer. And you just cannot deal with such people. For crying out loud, they didn't even have typewriters! It is bad enough that you can't get your Father/Grandfather to use his mobile phone, but you can also foresee a future (5?, 10? 15? years hence) in which new technologies and new fads have become too much for you to keep up.

This is nonsense, of course. We may not have normality, but we have life-long-learning now. We will keep up, because we have grown up with More's law. But all the same, having to keep up puts us in the position of Alice Through the Looking Glass, when she and the red queen suddenly have to run as fast as they can - just to stay where they are. Running as fast as you can is no time to look back. It may only slow you down, but there is always the danger of tripping up...

None of this would be a problem, if (fledgling) poets were the only people afflicted with history horror. Unfortunately, it is an epidemic. But please let me off the rack now. Otherwise I might confess more of my deviant pastimes. Such as going on the odd tour de force or something.

Edit: Louis kindly reminded me, that it should be 'Moore's law'

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Short-Term History Lessons

By way of experiment, I've just reread Douglas Couplands Generation X - Tales for an Accelerated Culture, published 14 years ago in 1991. The book created a great stir at the time. I wondered, if it was also prophetic in some kind of way. Look at this:
Historical Underdosing: To live in a period of time when nothing seems to happen. Major symptoms include addiction to newspapers, magazines, and TV news broadcasts.

Historical Overdosing: To live in a period of time when too much seems to happen. Major symptoms include addiction to newspapers, magazines, and TV news broadcasts.
London, 1998, p.9

In 2005 we might give a different list of media. We might even think that the somewhat paradoxical attitude Coupland observed has long since turned into something else: The information singularity.

It may have started with the first Irak war. Princess Diana's untimely death certainly was an information singularity. Next came 9/11. My idea of an information singularity is that the whole world is watching with bated breath. Broadcasters have reacted to this. Take the BBC World Service that changed from hourly to half-hourly news after 9/11. And only recently the world stared myopically at a little picture-in-picture inset of a little chimney in vatican city. Ersatz-history in the making...

These days the media seem to be almost dependent on information singularities. They generate sales at the newsstands, high viewer ratings, and lots of traffic on the internet and in the blogosphere. Is it dangerous? Should anything be done about it?

In terms of information technology the world Coupland described in 1991 is irrevocably gone. I find it all the more surprising that he observed an attitude towards information that was only fully enabled thanks to the internet.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Competitive Happiness

Richard Layard is a highly respected scientist, founder and director of the Centre for Economic Perfomance and member of the House of Lords. He has also been consultant to various British government agencies since 1968. He has also written a book (Happiness - Lessons from a New Science) which may well influence policies of the (next? Labour?) UK government. You know all that already, but were you aware that his brains are run by a very sturdy 1985 Casio pocket calculator? A happy one, I'm sure.

The upshot of the book is that we can now measure happiness. And if we can measure it, naturally governments should measure it. After all happiness or well-being are more important than such harsh and mean things as GDP? Tony Blair's government is all agog: A Whitehall source confirmed that the Government was looking at introducing a well-being indicator to see what benefits there may be for policy-making.

"Will this actually make people happier?"
Please don't ask such silly questions! Maybe some funds for renovating the public swimming pool, or a district nurse here and there will have to be re-allocated. But think of the happiness of the economists! How their abacus, Texas Instruments, and slide rule brains click together in merry, if somewhat protracted, meetings. And then the bliss of estate agents frollicking as the regional well-being-index is published and they can finally get rid of that rotten hovel! The real fun, however, will only start once the design for the Ministry of Happiness is approved. For the neuroscientist, psychologists, sociologist, down to the humble researchers with their clipboards there will be good cheer all the year round. And then, my cup runneth over, the ecstatic day when the first EU-Commissioner of felicity is confirmed in office.

A note to sci-fi authors: Don't you dream of using this scenario as a treatment for your next book. The cornerstone for this delightful future is already a fact. Look at A well-being manifesto for a flourishing society, produced by a labour associated think tank.

I hate long posts, but I haven't finished yet!

Happiness in the Corridors of Fear I
We don't need Richard Layards book to know that many people spend their lives in those corridors: Schools (highest concentration near the staff-room), university (will the students pass exams, will the lecturers get tenure, will the professors get funding), and out in the workplace... Here are two tiny snap-shots of the new kinds of scene we are likely to witness once the Ministry of Happiness is established:

The place is an large board-room, but it is not impressive. The revolution of design was swift. Light colours dominate and the artwork on the walls are whimsical calligraphic interpretations of ancient jokes. The executives sport suits in soothing pastels. Only the labour representative wears a dark grey, slightly crumpled suit. But the shiniest of all is Penny Thrillbeam from the FlouriFul Consultancy:

"It is only a matter of weeks now till the FTSE will be linked to the well-being-index. But we have assessed your organisation very thoroughly and here are our suggestions: Indepth psychological examination once a year for every employee. If treatment is necessary it will be deducted from the wages. Religious doubt, marital disagreements, or nightmares have to be reported immediately. Oh, and divorcees will be happier elsewhere."

The union man crumpled a little more. He knew he would have a hard time selling a professional comedian during lunch break and a gift-bonus for Valentine's Day as a success.

Happiness in the Corridors of Fear II
The second snap-shot: A dingy room. Lots of old-fashioned metal and light grey. The personell manager's smile seems a little worn:
"Thank you, Mr. Poynter. Your previous experience and your know-how are really impressive. And I think you could be a welcome addition to our company. But there is your well-being-questionaire to consider. You are not married, it seems?
"No", Carl looks radiantly happy. His eyes gleam.
"No community work?"
"I played in a pop band when I was twelve."
"But you stopped?"
"Had to, the lead singer kept imitating Marilyn Manson."
"And no regular religious practice?"
"There is this relaxation CD I sometimes use."
"This looks bad, Mr. Poynter. You see, we largely depend on government funding. And in such a small company as ours you would really mess up the statistics. If I ever were sorry, I'd be sorry to tell you that you will probably be happier elsewhere."
Carl kept smiling while he left. He knew a DVD rental where you could get Ingmar Bergman films, if you knew how to ask. Tonight he would indulge himself and first thing on Monday morning he'd find himself a decent happy happy joy joy coach.

Happy Horror
Back to the here and now. There are hundreds of sites reviewing Layard's book. Some take it at face value and simply agree. Oh yes, the world out there is so cold and ruthless. It is time someone finally acknowledged that. It may be true that people were happier in the 1950ies, but I'd really like to know how the scientists Layard relies on managed their double blind studies.
Thankfully the study was also criticised left right and centre. The Economist thinks that happiness is a private matter. The Times online berates Layard for
"perpetrating the myth that a grand utopian vision imposed from above by the Government has the slightest chance of increasing the sum of human joy by so much as a single bar of chocolate (which is, I find, by far the best measure of bliss)."

The LA Times sees the book as an excuse for right wing fiscal politics:
If money really causes more problems than it solves, Bush's second term will provide even greater happiness to the middle class and something approaching euphoria for the poor.

But by far wittiest take on Layard was that of the Denenberg Report. It uses the author's own rankings for happiness and unhappiness to argue that happiness would be enhanced, unhappiness practically eliminated, if we all had lots of money and no work to do.

None of the reviews and blogs I looked at pointed out that Layards thesis almost looks like a secularised version of the christian rich man's difficulty of getting into heaven while the poor man always gets a backstage pass.

And there is always a suspicion that nostalgia is at work when you are told to look back to the toothless, unheated, MTV-free 1950ies. And I'm sorry, Lord Layard, nostalgia is as old as the hills - probably a bit older.

How happy was Holden Caulfield?
In the 1950ies, I think, you were expected to have a cheerful outlook. If you were there at all, it meant you had survived WWII. Psychoanalysis was a pastime for fevered intellectuals. The majority would have been ashamed to confess their unhappiness to wandering psychologists. But it boiled underneath. How happy was Holden Caulfield? How happy were the beatniks? After 1968 and Vietnam there was no holding back. Finally you could publicise your innermost feelings. At first this felt so good that you stuck flowers everywhere and smiled a lot. But once all those feelings were out in the open it turned out that not all of them were all that blissful...

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Communicating Engineering?

I listened to the first of this year's Reith lectures on BBC radio 4 a couple of days ago. Lord Broers is convinced of the triumph of technology. However, he deplores that 50% of British graduates wish to work in the media when they leave university, because the media still seem so hip while engineering does not. I smell a rat? No, I smell the continuation of the Two Cultures discussion, triggered by C.P. Snow in the late 50ies. Yes, there are problems of communication, not least because the sciences and the humanities respectively tend to self-select people with different brains and abilities.

However, there is another problem even graver than communication malfunction: the economy. Machinery must be written off, before new technologies can even be contemplated. Workers must be trained and clients found for new technology. This is expensive and the costs of it can be calculated. In many cases new technology is easier on the environment, but the costs of not implementing them can neither be calculated nor attributed to economic units very well.

If it is true that technology has brought us to the brink of global environmental catastrophe then it must jolly well do something to avert the impending doom. But technology must be implemented before it can do anything. Instead of droning on I shall - again - point out this overwhelming collection of new materials (as did treehugger). If you are dazed by the sheer mass of materials you can subscribe to the newsletter featuring the product of the week.

Real vs. Virtual I

Women, but especially young girls everywhere take a good look at these two examples of retouched photos. Of course we know it is going on, but it is fascinating to see how much is done to transform perfectly natural human beings into sisters of Lara Croft. Sometimes I wonder why they do not make living models redundant in the first place.
Via boingboing.

Japan Blacklash

This is the story of the Japanese schoolgirl who insisted on going to class with non-black hair on her head and the teacher who sprayed her with black dye. I posted elsewhere on backlash in Japan.


As you can see I finally managed to get a background image for my title. I found the amazing typogenerator which gave me picture below.

Then I tweaked it a bit and am fairly pleased with the colours, but I still wish I knew how to keep the image from tiling. Ah well.

Then I went even deeper into the html undergrowth to create a new list. As blogrolling will only give me one free list (fair enough) I had to do it myself. When I fiddle with html it feels like a cross between rummaging in someone's guts and speaking chinese without a dictionary. In this new list you will find aesthetically pleasing interactive and/or moving things (if there is any rhyme or reason to the selection process it is all fuzz and no logic).

The one item on this new list which I have not mentioned yet is Bootstrap the Blank Slate. It is the most exciting internet art I have seen yet. You start with lots of coloured tiles on which you click or mouse over, then you end up with something like this:

And I did lots more, created poems, rumours and my very own personal map of the world (I'll have to work on that one, the sea is not quite the right shade of pink in the late afternoon), but I must have some sleep before I go on with my show and tell session.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Chain Reaction

I don't know what it is all about, how it works, or why it was created, but have fun with the gridgame and then try to get away while you can.
I found it at pen-elayne. Backupbrain has provoked a kind of high-score list in her comment section.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

For Once, Something Really Important

I finally started blogging after I read an article in wired about anil dash's feat with blumarine nigritude. Oh, I thought, if blogging is that big, I want to be where the action is. And now I can at least help to push sites up the ominous page rank that really matter to me. As yet no-body speaks of tightening abortion laws where I live or make it illegal again, though I can remember when it was. But the way conservative forces in America fight against roe vs. wade scares the shit out of me.

There is far too much brain washing going on, if you go here, you will find objective, factual information on:

Remember, the page-rank is a mighty thing! It can boost businesses and it can lobby the world. Join me in Bombing for Choice. I only wish someone would come up with similar campaigns to help more women in more continents.

I've Had a Gender Change

Completely painless. I went to the Gender Genie and said: Unsex me here, ye algorithms. And they did.

For most of the blogosphere this genie may well stink of old hat, but for those new to the realm of the blog, it could open interesting new prospects. Moreover, there is the club-of-a-hundred-male-white-political-bloggers-debate to consider.

I submitted this post to the genie. To the mere human eye it is not exactly a he-man text. But the genie has VIP-algorithms working for it. Here is my score:
Words: 1186 (NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 1769
Male Score: 2590

The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!
And look what I got for my pains:

Turn in your grave, Freud, but you can't take that cute little thing away from me.

(What she said put me on the scent)

Friday, April 01, 2005

Mind Shrinking Device Discovered

Ah, this is utter failure. I can't do this April Fool stuff.
If you want some of that go to boringboring, a lovingly recreated spoof of boingboing (where I found it). But I also like subzero blue's promise to devote his blog to the beauties of public toilets from now on.

So what about this mind shrinking device? Well, if you want minds shrunk you will still have to use minds to do it. There is a project to get rid of your innermost secrets by putting them on a postcard, have them scanned and put on the postsecret site anonymously. I'll tell you my secret right here: I'm voyeuristic enough to have looked at them all. The one that really got me was the one that said: Everyone I knew before 9/11 believes I'm dead.
How can one be so trapped and straitlaced into an unsatisfactory life, that you need Ground Zero to get out of it?
Via kottke.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Grandparents and (Genetic) Information

I have always loved my grandmother and I was not the only family member to do so. She was honoured, loved, revered by all the family. Indeed, my grandmother's high status together with the vibrant, imaginative and loving way my mother took charge of her family formed a kind of matriatrichal cocoon in which I happily spent the first 15 years of my life. The shock I sustained when I finally managed to peep out of this cocoon has stayed with me to this day.

But my grandmother died when I was five. How can she still be so important to me, when I don't remember a single thing she said? I don't know. Moreover, none of this has anything to do with the arabidopsis plant and its paradigm shifting ability to occasionally ignore Mendel's laws of inheritance.

I really can't put it any better than the folks at context:
Contrary to inheritance laws the scientific world has accepted for more than 100 years, some plants revert to normal traits carried by their grandparents, bypassing genetic abnormalities carried by both parents.

So there you have the tender little arabidopsis plants. It is time to develop a flower and all the genetic information we think they have tells them to form tight little balls instead of useful flowers. And 10% of the arabidopsis thus stricken say, 'nah, isn't much use, is it?' and produce nice open flowers anyway.

The scientists at Purdue University who conducted the research wouldn't dream of putting it in such blatantly anthropomorphic terms. What they do say, however, is this:
Our genetic training tells us that's just not possible. This challenges everything we believe.
Does this mean that my suspicion of GM-foods is justified? Again, I don't know, but I hope someone will find out pretty soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Malevich Had a Black Soul

And while elsewhere in the world it is religion that reintroduces cencorship, Russia prefers to censor 'unrussian' art. Not least Malevich's suprematist black square. Same difference? signandsight
And here is the black square

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Virtual Cultural Holidays

Sick of Schiavo, Summers or neglegted nonmale bloggers? Take a virtual holiday to Germany's cultural issues at the newly launched signandsight. It isn't perfect, I admit. If you follow the links on the site, sooner or later you will be stranded on a German language site. But it is a step. A step towards a much needed globalisation of linking minds or something. I found it on Arts & Letters Daily.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Religious Fundamentalism in Europe

Look at this beautiful photo! It is an ad for a team of French fashion designers. It shows female models as Jesa and her apostelettes in the postures of da Vinci's famous Last Supper. Alas courts in Italy and France ordered the posters down. French bishops, hiding behind the oxymoronically named association 'beliefs and freedoms' won a court order against the campaign on March 10th. You can read about it here. The lawyer for the bishops is afraid the people will use christ on the cross to advertise socks next. Wouldn't band aids be more the thing?

Funnily enough, as yet the only blog to pick up this issue is a Dutch blog (written in English) that claims to be 'the most superficial' on the net. Well, well...

Sunday, March 06, 2005

At Home?

This is in answer to one of the three highly cherished comments on this blog (see here). There were two things that made me think. Why was the comment on the situation in the USA while I was writing about Japan where gender equality is much younger and therefore much more vulnerable than in the USA? And what reasons other than religious ones can there be for staying at home?

Let me look back awhile to our gatherer-hunter ancestors. No-one stayed at home there. Home had to be where the food grew. Women provided most of it. And they produced the children. So the men got a little bored, perhaps, and asked themselves, if there were more exiting things to do. Killing big game was exiting, so perhaps killing people could be even more exiting? They invented war.

So on to early agricultural societies. Everyone stayed at home there - in times of peace, that is. I'm rushing things here, but on we go to early civilisation. Cities, artisans and texts. And what do we find in those texts among other things? Reasons, firmly grounded in religion, why women ought to stay at home. Be it the irate god of early jews, working overtime to establish his status as a one and only god. Be it the olympic kindergarten of the greeks or even god's/christ's representative on earth, st. paul, firmly crushing what little freedom women might have glimpsed in earlier parts of the new testament under foot.

As yet however, most of the time men stay at home too. Production is still quite firmly rooted at home or in the fields adjacent to it. Women produce textiles and food. They may have neither rights nor property, but they are working hard and they can see that their work is essential. Men leave the women at home for trade, politics and war. Ah, and war had meanwhile been developed into a fine art. Whole cultures were built around the noble virtues of the warrior. The men may have been traders and politicians, but only as warriors did they feel really glorious.

Basically nothing changes till the industrial revolution. Now there is a growing middle class aspiring to the lifestyle of the nobility. These men are no longer soldiers, but they still fight. They fight in the law courts and parlaments, they fight over markets and companies - and they hate to surrender. They cannot sustain their elevated lifestyle without working, but they can place their womenfolk in the home to show that they are top of the heap. The women do absolutely nothing, but being charming and pretty. Servants do all the rest. Let the wives and daughters embroider ornaments, let them sing a little, but most of all, let them be idle in a busy sort of way.

It is an amazing concept. The world has never seen anything like it. And it only holds true for a tiny minority. Most people are still far too poor to copy this bizarre arrangement. If work can no longer be had at home, women go to work in the mines, in the factories. They only get paid half as much as the men, but what can they do?

After one or two generations the male miners and factory hands are none too pleased about that either. Working women spoil their wages. How to oust women from the workplaces? They know they will get nowhere, if they simply say: We want that work and we want men's, not women's wages for it. So they construct this little argument, knowing that they will strike a chord in their middle class bosses: The women are too frail to work so hard, let us protect them. And where better to do so than at home? Of course the tycoons and political leaders fell for that.

However, even in our global society, this strange and bizarre concept still only holds true for a tiny minority, mostly in the developed world. Most women are still engaged in gruelling hard work on the land, unless, of course they sew our clothes in inhumane sweatshops etc.

The upper middle class wives and daughters were soon bored stiff with their ornamental status and started fighting for equality and got it - on paper that is. Now women can enjoy economic independence and even, to a certain degree, the kind of respect men receive for their status within society.

The backlash is, of course, just round the corner. It says 'Oh, those awful egotistic women who go out into the world and neglect their home and their children. Society will go to pieces, if it does not stop.' Isn't it amazing, that is never the men who neglect their home or their children?
It is no secret that the care for home, children, elderly and sick can be professionalised, but it is also a well known fact that these professions are badly paid and all too often the quality of the work reflects that to a certain degree.

Could this be a reason for staying at home in the modern world? My children are not cared for well enough by paid nurses, teachers, childminders, so I better do it myself. Without pay and even if it means there is no chance of professional carers ever being paid an adequate wage while there are such as me who do it for 'nothing'.

Then again it might be the remnants of the war-like atmosphere out there in the markets, the parlaments that keep women at home. They may fear contamination. They may have glimpsed the strange unwritten rules that guide male behaviour (I'm talking gender, not biology here) and may have thought that they are as ridiculous as they are awful. So better stay out of it, even if that means scraping together what little self-esteem can be got in this screwy society from hazy, idealistic notions, not from cash or status.

I'm almost surprised myself that there seem to be non-religious reasons for staying at home after all. They are paradox-ridden and not exactly attractive, but religious they are not.

So much for the impersonal, historical part of my answer to your comment, Lynn. But what about the personal? The only full-time stay-at-home woman I know was/is my own mother. She stayed at home till I was 17. Then I went to boarding school for a year. Although my younger brothers and my father remained, none of them talked with her as much as I did. I never checked this with her, but she must have been bored stiff all of a sudden. So when I came home after a year she was a full-time personal assistant after a brief part-time stint in the typing-pool. Now let me make this clear: Nothing and no-one could have prevented my mother from being the wonderful person she is (and I'm sure it's the same with you), but working had changed my mother. She was happy. Now, at 71, she still works 4 days a week. She does not have to (financially), so I suppose she is making up for those lost 17 years.

(Among others Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex, Bonnie S. Anderson/Judith P. Zinsser A History of Their Own and most of all Virginia Woolf Three Guineas are behind this.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Conversational Muse

Apparently I have spent two weeks away from this place. I think I was doing extremely superficial things with textiles. However, I listened to a BBC Worldservice programme today: Masterpiece - The Art of Conversation. You have a week from two hours ago to listen again. I would strongly advise that. Or you can go straight to the Oxford muse.

The aim of this organisation is to get people to really talk to each other. So they organise dinners at which complete strangers are placed at tables for two. Then they are given a "menue" with topics to talk about, such as 'Who are you?' or 'What is your sixth sense' All this is in aid of talking about things that really matter and of creating real connections between people. According to the Oxford Muse this is - eventually - in aid of a more peaceful world. But for the time being it makes for much more interesting evenings.

Because I am so awfully superficial my answer to the first question will vary from day to day. Tuesday, March 1st it is: I sit in the dentist's chair. He has a new kind of x-ray machine. The dentist comes in, says hello and asks me what I'm looking at. I tell him I am shocked by the criminal boredom of a name such as dens-o-mat. Ah, March 1st is gone now. I hope I shan't be as freakish on March 2nd. But I'm happy to report that my dentist has a great sense of humour.

And my 6th sense? Well - the same as yours, of course! The sense of proprioperception tells you where your body parts are situated in space. That is why the humdrum, literal minded German language speaks of the 7th sense. I don't know what my 7th sense is, something to do with textiles I think. But check out Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, his 6th/7th sense was universal boredom detection. The ghost of Lucky Jim tells me to stop writing this entry. NOW!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Why haven't I seen this on boingboing yet? Apparently last week a small town near Sydney was literally pelted with frozen chicken. Two of those birds - amazingly still flying - crashed through the roofs of not amused householders. So now we know that chicken can do more than cross the road. Here are some details

Friday, February 11, 2005

Passion II: Yma Sumac

It is only very rarely that I feel the urge to buy any music. Then I go straight up to a salesperson and try and make them understand my strange music needs. Make it exciting. Make it full of joy - and passionately so. Not exactly easy, you will admit. My last foray got me Yma Sumacs album Mambo. So I was pleasantly surprised to read about Sumac on boingboing yesterday. It gave a link to easydreamer which in turn points you to the first authorised Yma Sumac site. Easydreamer now has an update with a little mp3 taster of Sumacs amazing voice. Listen to it by all means.

And if you are able to direct me to contemporary artists who perform with such an immediate joie de vivre I'd be enormously grateful.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Procrastination II: Reverse Astrology

If you are looking for something to do to prevent you from getting your stuff done you can check your star sign by reverse astrology. The inimitable Esther Wilberforce-Packard put me on to it. As always when doing such tests I tried to be as truthful as possible. Still my analysis was nowhere near my real sign and I was requested to check my real birthday with my parents.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Passion I: Happy Birthday Macbeth

I nearly missed the 1000th birthday of the real Macbeth, but the Scottish parliament did not. As part of the commemoration it was claimed that the historical Macbeth was not half as bad as Shakespeare made him, and the BBC reported it.

Well, good or bad I always had a huge soft spot for the Scottish play. It was the first Shakespeare drama I read and the first I saw acted - at a highly impressionable age. I was swept away by its passion.

So happy birthday great Glamis! worthy Cawdor! Even though it is to be feared that the world will fail to celebrate you and will instead give solely sovereign sway and masterdom to Einstein's puny 100 years.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Wasp in the Cauliflower

It is winter. I hate winter. You lug kilos upon kilos of clothing around with you. It takes ages to get dressed. It is dark for too many hours every day. I used to think that no matter how horrible winter was, at least you are not bothered by wasps. When it comes to wasps, I am phobic.

Preparing my purple cauliflower before steaming it, I saw my insectoid attacker. It had survived a trip from Spain to Germany and 3 days solitary confinement inside a plastic bowl - but it was alive. Mercilessly I butchered it with the knife I was holding and threw it in the bin with some cauliflower stems.

I should have told you right from the start that this is no harmless fable in the style of Aesop or de la Fontaine, but a gruesome monster movie. Yes, just before I had to leave for work, I saw something moving near my rubbish bin. It was the brute crawling about on my floor, dragging its mutilated body along. I put on my monster crushing protective clothing (rubber glove) and squeezed it in wads of toilet paper.

Do not tell me that such things just happen. These organic farmers are sinister types who will do anything to protect their cauliflowers from pests - even set those nightmarish monsters on them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


As you might guess from the title of my blog, there are not too many things I go into thoroughly. However, if this is a rule, it must have an exception: procrastination. So while I delve into that a little deeper, have some fun with this animation? documentary? I know it has been all over the blogsphere. I saw it first on boingboing.